SEED: qualifications and CPD highlighted in quality report

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We summarise the latest findings from the Government-funded Study of Early Education and Development (SEED).


The latest study highlights the rise in quality in early years and childcare settings


  • Higher average staff qualifications and higher staff to child ratios link to quality in private and voluntary settings
  • Settings caring for three- to four-year-olds scored slightly higher than those caring for two-year-olds

The quality of early education and childcare in nurseries has risen over the past 15 years, and staff qualification levels appear to have improved, according to the latest findings of the Government-funded SEED study.

The report is from the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), which started in 2013 and is following 6,000 children from the age of two to the end of Key Stage 1.

The research is being undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research, Action for Children, Oxford University and Frontier Economics.

The latest report’s main objectives were to explore the distribution of quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in different group settings for two-, three- and four-year-olds, as well as the relationship between the characteristics of a setting and the quality of care and education it offers.

Quality across all types of providers was ‘generally at least adequate’, and a comparison with the DfE-funded EPPE research 15 years ago showed ‘a noteworthy increase in the quality of settings in the SEED results’.

The research on provision for twos to fours in England also found that there was no difference between the quality of early years and childcare in poor areas and that offered in better-off parts of the country.

edward-melhuishThe report’s lead author, Professor Edward Melhuish (pictured) from the University of Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London, said, ‘The SEED study shows that the quality of early education in England is generally good and has improved over the last 15 years following changes in policy. It also demonstrates the factors, such as continuing professional development, that can be changed to improve quality.’

Sue Robb, head of early years at Action for Children, said, ‘The early years team are proud to have carried out the quality visits necessary for the compilation of today’s report. This report recognises the hard work of all practitioners within the early years sector in raising the quality of provision.

‘It is especially pleasing for us to see that there was no difference in the good quality of early education and childcare between more disadvantaged and advantaged areas, meaning that the more vulnerable children within our society have access to the same quality as their more advantaged peers.’

The findings are based on observations made by researchers from the early years team at Action for Children who witnessed educational practices and experiences that support children’s development during half-day visits to 1,000 settings between May 2014 and April 2016.

Information about process quality (including the curriculum, pedagogical practices and child experiences that support development) was collected through the observations and was measured using scales (detailed later in this article).

Characteristics of the setting (including adult to child ratios, staff qualifications and group size) were measured through a questionnaire.

Quality of provision was similar across the most and least deprived areas. Some regional variation in quality was observed, partly relating to differences in types of childcare provision prevalent in different regions.

Staff training and development, lower staff turnover and accepting a narrower range of ages at the setting were associated with higher-quality provision across private, voluntary, nursery class and nursery school settings.

A higher average level of staff qualification and having fewer children per member of staff were also associated with higher-quality provision in private and voluntary settings.

Although average overall quality at all setting types was good, maintained nursery classes and schools, as well as children’s centres, tended to score a little higher on quality than private and voluntary settings. Settings caring for three- to four-year-olds also tended to score slightly higher than those caring for two-year-olds.

A number of setting characteristics were associated with higher-quality provision. Across most settings (private, voluntary and nursery class/school), higher-quality provision was associated with:

Staff training and development, i.e. having a staff training plan or budget in place or more frequent continued professional development (CPD).

  • Lower staff turnover
  • Narrower age range of children accepted at the setting (e.g. minimum age of two, or lower maximum age).
  • In private and voluntary settings only, higher-quality provision was associated with:
  • Higher staff to child ratio (i.e. having fewer children per member of staff).
  • Higher average staff qualification (this was also associated with higher quality in children’s centres).
  • In voluntary settings only, higher-quality provision was associated with:
  • Larger setting size (offering a higher number of places).
  • Single-site settings.

Key findings: two-year-olds

Visits were made to 402 settings: private providers (256) and voluntary (103), such as day nurseries and pre-schools; and 25 children’s centres. The numbers of local authority nurseries (seven) and maintained nursery schools/nursery classes in schools (11) visited were later omitted from the analysis because the numbers visited were too small to draw robust conclusions.

Researchers used the Infant and Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS-R) to measure overall quality (space and furnishings, personal care routines, listening and talking, activities, interaction and programme structure).

The Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Well-Being (SSTEW) Scale measured the quality of staff-to-child interaction (building trust, confidence and independence; supporting and extending language and communication; supporting emotional well-being, learning and critical thinking; assessing learning and language).

The most common level of manager’s qualification was Level 6, a degree or equivalent.

Higher ratio (i.e. having fewer children per member of staff) was one of the strongest associations of higher quality across PVI settings for two-year-olds.

Key findings: three- and four-year-olds

Visits were made to 598 settings: private (302), voluntary (143), nursery class/school (123), children’s centres (26) and local authority settings (four).

Researchers used the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R) as an overall measure of quality (personal care routines, language reasoning, activities, interaction, programme structure). The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale Extension (ECERS-E) measured educational quality (literacy, maths, diversity). They also used the SSTEW Scale.

Higher process quality scores in SSTEW were observed in three- to four-year-olds’ settings than in two-year-olds’ settings.

There were higher levels of staff and manager qualifications at settings for three- and four-year-olds.


The report states, ‘Good quality ECEC is being delivered by different types of providers across England, and improvements in quality have been seen over time.

‘This may be associated with concurrent improvements in staff qualifications among other factors. Given that past research has indicated variation in quality relating to area deprivation and the new research from SEED has not, this may indicate that efforts to address quality in disadvantaged areas have been effective.

A number of setting characteristics which are seen to be associated with process quality may be potential areas for development to further improve ECEC quality in England.’

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