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Research Questions

  1. What constitutes quality in ECEC provision, and which indicators can be used to measure quality?
  2. Do the definitions and measurements of childcare quality differ between EU member states?
  3. How are the different indicators of quality related to each other?
  4. What is the context that each quality indicator works in (i.e. national, local, family, centre-level)?
  5. What are the potential policy levers for improving ECEC quality?

There is a strong association between the quality of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) provision and the outcomes for children, with high quality ECEC being associated with better child outcomes later in life. This brief reviewed the broad range of indicators that have been linked to quality, with a focus on understanding how these indicators relate to quality and eventual child outcomes. Following the academic literature on this subject we distinguished between structural quality, which relates to the physical environment and staffing requirement, and process quality, which relates to curricular practices, caregiver qualities, and parental involvement. We found that the interaction between structural and process indicators of ECEC quality is complex, and varies significantly across socio-economic, cultural and national contexts, which reflects the beliefs, needs, roles and motivations of the different stakeholders involved in defining ECEC services. Despite this complexity we identified several structural indicators which are frequently considered indicators of high process quality. For each of these indicators we present policy levers for improving ECEC quality, and discuss the context in which these levers work, i.e. whether they act at national level, family and community level or at the level of the childcare setting.

Key Findings

  • Childcare quality and the associated child outcomes can be measured by looking at structural indicators, which relate to inputs such as the physical environment and staffing requirements, and process indicators, which relate to the processes that are required to deliver ECEC services and how children experience these inputs.
  • High process quality often follows from high structural quality: structural indicators such as staff-child ratios or the availability of sufficient learning materials facilitate positive child experiences and interaction with the childcare environment.
  • To understand differences between EU member states in ECEC quality it is important to relate these indicators to the cultural, educational and social context in which the ECEC is provided.
  • Within different policy contexts we identified potential policy levers for improving ECEC quality, based on structural factors which are frequently considered indicators of high process quality.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Understanding quality in ECEC

  • Chapter Three

    Approaches to measuring 'quality'

  • Chapter Four


Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the European Commission and conducted by RAND Europe.

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