The impact of free early years education and care – case study

MiSoC has conducted the most comprehensive study to date analysing the effects of free childcare provision on maternal employment patterns and childhood outcomes.

Our researchers exploited exogenous variation in the availability of free childcare for pre-school children in England across time and geographical areas, and between children born at different points in the year. Working with colleagues from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the University of Surrey, the MiSoC team also partnered with the Family and Daycare Trust and the leading thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), to disseminate and discuss these new findings with practitioners and policy-makers from local and central government.

Informing government policies

The researchers gave oral and written evidence and advice to the House of Lords Committee on Affordable Childcare, who cited the work in their final report.

The findings of the project were presented to a cross-Government group, including HM Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs, Department of Work and Pensions and Department for Education (including the Child Poverty Unit) as well as to the Welsh Government, the Government Equality office, the Social Market Foundation and additional briefings for teams within the Department for Education and HM Treasury.

The Minister for Childcare and Education, Sam Gyimah, was briefed on the research and it helped him in thinking through the Government’s position before giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare.

The researchers also submitted written evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on Childcare policy and its influence on the economy and were cited in the Committee’s report. Their finding that free childcare had little impact on children’s development and maternal labour supply because the offer displaced existing childcare use was used by officials and ministers at Department for Education to explicitly think through the planned expansion of the early years entitlement to 30 hours for working families. The objectives of educational attainment, affordability and maternal employment were separated out and the focus of the planned expansion put on affordability.

The team’s expertise in childcare and evaluation of childcare policy has fed into the work of Department for Education. Professor Mike Brewer worked with Ipsos Mori on the annual Department for Education report on parents use of childcare and on a project for HMRC and Department for Education (with Frontier Economics) on how to best evaluate the tax-free childcare and the extension of free childcare to 30 hours.

Dr Birgitta Rabe is working on a response to a Department for Education consultation on surveys on childcare and early years in England.

Informing practice, political thinking and new research

The MiSoC team are also actively engaged with practitioners and non-government organisations working with the research findings to inform their policies and practice.

Professor Mike Brewer was on an advisory group for an IPPR project on how childcare funding and delivery mechanisms could be improved to create better outcomes for children and parents.

Dr Birgitta Rabe is working with Save the Children, feeding in to a campaign with the Centre for Social Justice aimed at supporting children’s early development.

MiSoC findings have fed into the Nuffield Foundation review on early years education and childcare which has led them to establish a specific new funding stream for Early Years research.