The steering group of the NQIN has produced a set of overarching principles designed to guide the future development of quality improvement processes and quality assurance schemes

The principles have been arrived at following an extensive consultation involving early years providers, local authorities and national umbrella organisations. They are designed to build on the experience of existing schemes and to promote the sharing of effective quality improvement practices.

What is the NQIN?

The National Quality Improvement Network (NQIN), set up in 2005 through an initiative of the Early Childhood Unit of the National Children’s Bureau, brings together the key organisations with an interest and involvement in promoting high standards in early years provision. These include umbrella organisations such as the National Day Nurseries Association, the National Childminding Association, 4 Children and the Pre-school Learning Alliance, as well as specialist units with an expertise in early childhood services such as the Pen Green Unit and the Centre for Research in Early Childhood in Birmingham.

Quality improvement practices

The definition of what constitutes ‘quality’ has been the subject of an ongoing debate particularly in relation to the balance between parent-led and professional-led services for children and families. Nevertheless, the compelling evidence from the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Study (2004) indicates the important contribution high-quality early education and care make to positive outcomes for children in terms of their long-term wellbeing and achievement. The NQIN principles focus on a whole-setting-based approach and recognise that quality improvement is a journey towards higher standards. As such it requires commitment, teamwork, honest self-evaluation and an end to complacency. The standards of welfare, learning and development in the current statutory guidance, and in the new EYFS framework, provide a baseline which all early years providers must achieve. Improving services to exceed this baseline will involve all members of the staff team accepting the importance of:

  • learning new skills
  • making changes in the way things are done
  • being more explicit about their shared values and beliefs
  • setting goals or targets for improvement
  • making changes to their behaviour and speech.

The overarching principles set out by the NQIN are:

  • Guide and support settings to improve outcomes.
  • Encourage settings to become inclusive and reduce inequalities.
  • Strengthen values and principles.
  • Promote effective practice.
  • Increase the capacity of settings to improve quality.
  • Promote integrated working within and among settings.
  • Challenge and support key people in settings to lead quality improvement
  • Build on settings’ proven workforce development strategies.
  • Support settings through self-evaluation and improvement.
  • Local authorities and national organisations monitor quality improvements and communicate achievements.
  • Local authorities and national organisations ensure quality improvement is achievable, continuous and sustainable.
  • Schemes operate fair, inclusive and transparent accreditation processes.

These 12 principles are set out in a document from the NQIN entitled Quality Improvement Principles: A Framework for Local Authorities and National Organisations to Improve Quality Outcomes for Children and Young People available from the Early Childhood Unit of the National Children’s Bureau ( This sets out the rationale behind the principles and provides practical guidance about what the principle might look like in practice. Details are also provided of the appropriate legislative frameworks applicable to each of the principles. This makes the document a useful tool for setting managers to use as a framework for reviewing the quality improvement process with their staff teams. Research from the Centre for Research in Early Childhood on the Effective Early Learning programme (EEL) has shown that there are 10 ‘Dimensions of Quality’ that can demonstrate the NQIN principles in practice. Settings gather information on:

  • aims and objectives
  • the range of care, learning and development experiences provided
  • methods of facilitating care, learning and development experiences
  • planning, assessment and record keeping
  • staffing and staff development
  • relationships and interactions
  • inclusion, equality and diversity practices
  • physical environment, both indoors and outdoors
  • leadership and management, monitoring and evaluation

Involvement and feedback from all key players adds enormously to the value of this information as it provides a range of perspectives from all the key stakeholders.

The Effective Early Learning programme is a quality improvement and mentoring scheme run by the Centre for Research in Early Childhood at the University of Worcester EEL aims to support the long-term and sustained improvement of a setting by providing an initial training programme followed by 12 -18 months of setting-led self-evaluation. This self-evaluation involves the systematic collection of evidence, which demonstrates how the setting meets national standards and, in addition, assesses the quality of learning experiences for young children. Self-evaluation procedures are carried out by the whole staff team, with the involvement of parents and children. The evidence gathered through this process allows the identification of good practice and highlights issues to be addressed to raise quality and improve services. This evidence then becomes the basis of an action plan for quality improvement. After a suitable period of time the success of the action plan is reviewed and further reflection and evaluation leads to a new cycle of action and improvement.

The spiral nature of the quality improvement process recognises that there is no final ‘quality goal’ that can be reached. Providers of early years services must instead be constantly reflecting on their practice and consulting with their key stakeholders to ensure that their services meeting the changing expectations and demands of modern society without losing sight of the core elements of what quality means for young children. Achieving this goal will involve the development of a highly skilled, forward-looking but reflective workforce equipped with good organisation and management skills. The new EYFS Framework sets the responsibility for managing staff training firmly within the remit of the early years provider.