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Research summaries

Two research papers have been published this week by the Department for Education:

The Costs of Childcare (2013) and A Comparison of International Childcare Systems (2013).

Liz Bayram commented "we welcome the publication of two new reports commissioned by the Department for Education, to examine childcare provision in the UK compared to other OECD countries.

The reports underline why PACEY and the wider childcare sector was so concerned and lobbied so hard to get proposals around ratio changes overturned. The research found that the best performing countries have higher ratios and qualifications as well as more regulation. This backs up the calls from PACEY members for increased regulation and requirements on childcare professionals to achieve a full and relevant minimum level 3 qualification.

The Cost of Childcare report acknowledges that it is not easy to make direct comparisons between countries on the cost of childcare because they can be subsidised to the provider or directly to the families, which distorts the cost of childcare to parents figure.

Whilst the ratio decision has been over turned, we continue to be concerned about a number of other proposed childcare policies. In particularly the introduction of childminder agencies and the removal of support provided by local authorities which threatens the quality and sustainability of childcare."  

Our research and policy team have produced these summary briefings for you to digest the information.

The Costs of Childcare (2013) a research paper by academics Helen Penn and Eva Lloyd, funded by the Department for Education was finally published this week. The authors were tasked with using international comparative data (from the OECD Family database) in order to understand why the net costs of childcare for parents in the UK given the relatively high level of public expenditure. The authors paid particular attention to the Netherlands and Norway because, as in the UK, the majority of early education and childcare is provided by voluntary and non-state organisations.

Summary of the conclusions:

  • Comparing the provision of childcare across Europe is complex and not easily comparable across OECD countries
  • The much quoted/stated high cost of childcare in the UK can sometimes be misleading because of how data is presented differently from country to country. For example in some countries cost of childcare is measure at the point of delivery, after subsidies have been given to providers in order to keep the fees down (supply side). However in the UK, subsidies are instead given to parents (demand-side funding) through the tax and benefit system.
  • Therefore the UK compares favourably with other countries on social spending for children under five.
  • Many countries exercise fee capping for childcare or fee charges must be means tested (e.g. 15% of household income).
  • Those countries which exercise fee capping regulate childcare fees at the point of use. In the UK, the evidence suggests that retrospective reimbursement through the tax and benefits system has been a deterrent for many families.
  • UK expenditure on Early Childcare Education and Care is high, but OECD figures suggest that this expenditure is not translated into equality of access to childcare or early education. Higher income groups benefit disproportionately. Lower income quintile groups are least likely to access provision.
  • Comparative data available on ratios, place of work, and the levels of qualifications of workers suggest that UK workers in childcare appear to be less well qualified than workers in other countries, although those that work in schools providing nursery education tend to be better qualified.
  • Deregulation in the UK would lead to a reduction in quality, as measured by these indicators.

A Comparison of International Childcare Systems (2013)

When, in June 2012, the Prime Minister announced a commission on childcare to look at how to reduce the costs of childcare for working families, The Centre for Research in Early Childhood were commission by the Department for Education to undertake a review of comparative international data on approaches to childcare and educational outcomes.

The findings are presented in the research report, A Comparison of International Childcare Systems (2013) by Professor Chris Pascal, Professor Tony Bertram, Sean Delaney & Carol Nelson.

Key findings:

1. European countries consistently show:

  • Higher staff: child ratios (i.e. Higher number of staff to number of children)
  • Relatively higher levels of training and qualifications
  • Higher levels of regulation
  • More national curriculum guidelines for preschool
  • Stronger government strategy and investment in preschools

2. High performing European countries in terms of school outcomes appear to have:

  • Higher staff: child ratios (higher number of staff to number of children) than other European countries
  • higher levels of staff qualification and training
  • relatively higher levels of regulation than other European countries
  • middle to high range response to the existence of a Government-led strategy and the level of investment
  • Quality and inclusiveness of the early education system in 45 countries were ranked based on four indicators; Social Context, Availability, Affordability and Quality. The UK performed very well, ranked as 4th out of 45 countries.
  • However the UK did perform as well in terms of school outcomes, measured by assessing 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics, and science. The UK was ranked as 26th out of 70 countries (this is still above average performance).