Research into the service costs and equity risks associated with the marketisation and privatisation of early childhood education and care (ECEC) carried out by researchers from UEL has directly influenced the development of national and international ECEC and child poverty policies.

The provision, quality and cost of early education and care (ECEC) are vital issues in many countries, especially in those like the UK that are actively seeking to provide all young children with high quality early education, as well as reliable childcare for working parents.

The International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC) was established at UEL by Professors Helen Penn and Eva Lloyd to meet a need for research into the viability, quality and accessibility of early childhood services in the UK and abroad, particularly where these receive public funding.

A "mixed economy" of childcare

Working together with a range of international scholars, Lloyd and Penn have highlighted the role of the "mixed economy" of childcare and have produced a significant and growing body of work on the growth of private for-profit childcare provision and its impact on the viability, quality, and sustainability of early childhood services and equity more generally.

Work by Penn has included an analysis of the financing and regulation of childcare across the EU and in the global South, notably in work for the supranational organization UNESCO, as well as a secondary analysis of the OECD Family Database for the UK Department for Education.

Lloyd's work focuses primarily on UK policy developments, including comparisons of UK childcare policy with that in the Netherlands.

With an interest in the impacts of childcare policy developments on disadvantaged families, Lloyd co-authored the influential 2009 evaluation by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) of the piloting of free education for disadvantaged two year olds.

This evaluation made an important contribution to the evidence base paving the way for a commitment to provide free education to 40% of two year olds by 2014/15. The programme was the Coalition Government's major child poverty initiative.

On behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Lloyd undertook a review of the research literature dealing with the links between early childhood education and care and child poverty reduction to inform its work on the development of a programme of anti -poverty strategies for the UK. A final report is available here.

Influencing policy

Penn and Lloyd have shared key findings of their work on childcare market issues with MPs and senior policy officials in Government departments such as the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Their unique expertise means that they are both are often asked to contribute to national policy and strategy advisory boards and childcare policy roundtable discussions held by government departments and public policy think tanks.

In addition, Lloyd has provided expert advice on the development of  NICE guidelines relating to the wellbeing of vulnerable under-5s and was the only academic member of the joint Department for Education/Department of Health Co-production Steering Group, which helped plan, draft and implement proposals set out in the Government's 2011 Families in the Foundation Years policy document.

She also co-chaired the Department for Education's Early Education Co- production Group, which provided key input to the 2012 National Audit Office (NAO) inquiry into the delivery of free early education for three and four year olds.

In 2013 Lloyd was awarded an Honorary OBE for Services to Education in recognition of her work in this area.

Both Lloyd and Penn have helped to increase the impact of their work by providing regular expert commentary for national news such as the Independent, Guardian, and Telegraph, and the professional press.

In 2014 Professor Helen Penn retired from her role as co-director, but she remains associated with the Centre. ICMEC continues under Professor Lloyd's leadership.