Last reviewed 6 March 2020

Disadvantaged children benefit the most from at least 20 hours a week of formal childcare, according to the latest report from the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) project.

The SEED research is part of a longitudinal study which started in 2013 and is following 6000 children from the age of two to the end of Key Stage 1. Commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), the latest report revealed mixed findings in relation to outcomes of different types of childcare, from informal provision with friends and relatives, through to childminders and nursery groups.

The research found that the 40% most disadvantaged children who attend formal group childcare for 10 hours per week no later than age two and an average of 20 hours per week of formal group childcare between age two and the start of school, have a higher chance of achieving the expected level of development at reception age and improved verbal ability in Year 1.

However, in terms of childminder provision, the research found that for the most disadvantaged children a larger number of hours per week spent with a childminder between age two and the start of school was associated with poorer EYFS Profile scores in reception.

High use of formal group childcare between age two and the start of school is associated with negative effects on socio-emotional well-being in Year 1. However, there is evidence that the use of some individual childcare (childminders, friends, relatives) mitigates the negative socio-emotional effects of high formal group care.

The report also found that higher use of informal individual early childhood education and care – such as that provided by friends or relatives – between age two and the start of school was associated with better verbal ability measured during Year 1.

Children’s home learning environment and their relationship with their parents was also found to have “considerable influence” on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes measured during Reception and Year 1.

Max Stanford, head of early childhood education at the Early Intervention Foundation, said:

“Given early education and childcare is one of the biggest government investments in early intervention, it is critical that we know the impact this is having on improving child development and reducing the disadvantage gap”.

“While the report presents a very mixed set of findings, it is important to see them in the context of a changing early years education landscape. Given that almost all children now receive some form of early education and care, as opposed to none at all, we need to switch our focus to understanding and improving the quality of that provision.”

"At the same time, given the benefits of a rich parent-child relationship and home learning environment, as shown in this report, we should concentrate on ensuring children have as high-quality a learning environment at home as they do in other early education and care settings.”

The full report is available here.