The scheme has been informed by a new report collecting together the findings from previous early years research, which reveals a lack of conclusive data about the impact of early years and childcare provision.
It says that although there has been rapid expansion of childcare provision during the past 20 years, it has been mostly through the private, voluntary and independent sector.
In, ‘Early years education and childcare: lessons from evidence and future priorities', it says, 'This mixed market model seems unlikely to change, though we believe the evidence raises questions about whether it currently provides consistently high quality childcare.'
While there is 'strong evidence' that overall quality is lower in the PVI sector than in the public sector, particularly in disadvantaged areas, it also found that England has been more successful than other countries in using early education and childcare to counteract disadvantage, with children accessing children's centres and nurseries attached to primary schools, 'where quality is higher'.
The report also says that while gradate leadership is found to narrow the quality gap between the most and least deprived areas, not enough is known about why this is so or how best to deploy the skills of graduates in early years settings.
To address the gaps in evidence, the Nuffield Foundation’s new Early Years Education and Childcare programme, will fund projects that cover five themes:
- children’s educational attainment and developmental outcomes;
- tackling social disadvantage;
- parental and family context;
- wider societal impacts;
- public policy mechanisms for early years.
Within the theme on public policy mechanisms for early years, the Nuffield Foundation is looking for projects that focus on how the PVI sector operates and what drives its costs, the balance between supply and demand-side funding, as well as the link between graduates and quality.
For projects covering educational attainment and child development, the charitable trust says it is particularly keen to encourage rigorous trials or pre-trials for intervention focusing on cognitive and developmental factors, including language, literacy, numeracy, self-control, emotional development, and the relationships between these.
The charitable trust is looking for a range of project types to tackle its priority themes and questions.
The types of research it will consider are: reviews and synthesis, data collection and analysis, pre-trial development work, controlled trials and evaluations and research translation.
The closing date for applications for funding is 2 July.