About IELS

The first five years of a child’s life is crucial to their development.
During this period, children learn at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives, developing basic skills that are fundamental for their future achievements in school and later on as an adult. These skills are also the foundation for their general wellbeing – how they respond to future successes and setbacks. The OECD International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study (IELS) is an exciting new research study that provided an opportunity to understand better the role of children’s early childcare experiences and home environment on children’s development and wellbeing.

This study collected high quality, holistic information to investigate a range of outcomes, including social and emotional wellbeing and self-regulation, as well as emerging literacy and numeracy development. Some of the measures were collected from parents/carers and teachers, whereas others were assessed directly using story- and game-based activities on tablet devices. The findings from this study can be used to help countries better support children’s early development.

In March 2020 the OECD published their findings to the study. These can be found here and a summary of the key findings in England can be found on our Research and Publicity page.

What did the IELS study involve?
IELS collected robust information about the cognitive and social-emotional development of children in England, Estonia and the United States.

Children completed games and story-based activities on a tablet with an experienced study administrator. The activities were designed to be fun and engaging for children aged five. There were four sessions, each taking 15-20 minutes, which children completed over two days in schools. The four main domains appraised in these activities were: social and emotional development, self-regulation, and emergent literacy and numeracy. The IELS team in England also developed a measure of children’s physical development. This information was gathered indirectly, via the teacher questionnaire.

All of our study administrators were carefully chosen and their references checked (including an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check). They were qualified teachers, familiar with young children, and specifically trained to administer the study.

Parents/carers and school teachers completed a questionnaire about each child’s development and background. Teachers were also asked to provide some brief information about their professional background and experience.

All responses from questionnaires and the information from activities are strictly confidential. Findings will never be presented at school level or identify schools, teachers, parents/carers or children.

How were schools and children chosen to participate?
Over 2,800 pupils in around 200 schools were randomly selected to represent England in the main study in 2018.

Random selection helps to ensure unbiased results that can be used to tell us about children’s development in general. We could only include the schools and children that had been randomly selected for the study.

Who conducted the IELS study in England?
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was responsible for overseeing IELS in England, on behalf of the Department for Education. NFER is a leading independent provider of education research and insights, including research in the early years.

OECD developed the study with the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER), which was the international study centre. ACER was responsible for the development of the activities, questionnaires and the management of the study at an international level.

How do we look after everyone’s data?
We take privacy and confidentiality very seriously. The data was processed in line with the Data Protection Act and General Data Protection Regulation. All information will be held securely and no individual child, parent, carer or teacher will be identified or identifiable in any reporting.

For further information about confidentiality, please view the privacy notice.



November – December 2017
Children, teachers and parents/carers from 32 schools in England participated in the IELS field trial. Children, parents/carers and education professionals from other participating countries also took part.

January – September 2018
The results of the activities the children completed and questionnaires from parents/carers and teachers were analysed by the international research team. The aspects that worked well were taken forward to the main study.

From March 2018
The 202 schools in England selected to participate in the main study were contacted by NFER. NFER supported schools throughout their participation to ensure that it was a pleasant and rewarding experience for children, parents/carers and schools.

October – November 2018
Children, parents/carers and schools took part in the main study. This involved over 2,500 children and parents/carers in around 200 schools in each country.

December 2018 - December 2020
International researchers collated and analysed the responses from all participating countries and prepared reports on the findings. OECD published a final report in March 2020 and NFER’s national report for England was published in December 2020.

December 2020 – July 2021
The research team at NFER looked further at the findings from the study to investigate how deprivation and physical development relate to the learning outcomes of five-year-old children in England. These two additional reports were published in July 2021.