close open in new window Early Years QM Cycle
The QM Cycle

How to apply

Who can apply?

The Quality Mark is available to all registered providers of early years provision (from birth to 5), such as local authority nurseries, nursery or early years centres, children’s centres, playgroups, pre-schools, registered childminders, or schools in the independent, private or voluntary sector and maintained schools in England.

Separate guidance for gaining the Quality Mark is available for primary and secondary schools and extended service providers in both the maintained and independent sectors.

Each Quality Mark is awarded for three years. At the end of that period the award can be renewed for a further three years (and subsequently every three years), providing the early years provider or school still meets the relevant criteria for all 10 elements and provides evidence that holding a Quality Mark has had a positive impact on its provision and practice in respect of those areas of learning and development broadly covered by ‘foundation skills’ in the context of the early years, ‘Glossarybasic skills’ in primary schools or ‘functional skills’ in secondary schools.

Who undertakes the assessment?

In England, an early years provider or school, whether maintained or independent, must be assessed by an assessor accredited through the national Quality Mark Partnership. An assessor may be provided by the local authority if it is a member of the national Partnership and has early years accredited assessors. Where this is not possible, assessment can be negotiated by contacting (This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it)  

The recommendation for a Quality Mark award can only be made by an accredited assessor. There is no deadline for applications and they can be submitted throughout the year once the criteria are met.

The details of designated local authority Quality Mark contacts can be found by searching under the name of the relevant local authority on www.qmdatabase.org or by sending an e-mail enquiry to  (This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it) .

Download the Early Years self-audit template.

What has to be demonstrated?

An early years provider or school has to show that at the time of its assessment:

  • it meets the appropriate criteria for its context for all 10 Quality Mark elements
  • there is a whole setting/provider or school commitment to improving communication, language, literacy and mathematical development (whether these are described as ‘foundation skills’, ‘basic skills’ or ‘functional skills’)
  • the abilities and achievements of young children and learners in communication, language, literacy and mathematical development are improving. 

While early years providers or schools may spend varying amounts of time working towards accreditation, a Quality Mark cannot be gained merely through making a commitment to meet all the elements in the future. Any improvement has to have taken place because an early years provider or school has added value through the quality of its practice and provision. Any improvement will also need to relate to a period longer than a single academic year.

Evidence to demonstrate that an early years provider or school is meeting the appropriate criteria for each element should come from a wide range of sources. Possible sources are suggested in the ‘WILL MEET’ sections accompanying each element. Most of what will be needed should already be available, as it will have been gathered for other purposes. Providers and schools should make common sense judgements in selecting evidence which will illustrate the criteria in their own context. 

Evidence can be presented in any format that makes it easy for the assessor to identify planning, provision and evidence of impact. A specific file or portfolio may be assembled, or relevant sections in existing documentation highlighted. The same piece of core evidence will often support several different elements, and can be cross-referenced.

It is important to emphasise that assessment is not just based on a review of documents. An assessor will also seek evidence through discussion with key stakeholders, such as practitioners and staff, parents, representatives of any management committee, advisory group or governing body and, where appropriate, by talking to young children or learners themselves. Additional evidence may also be gathered through focused observation of practice during activity sessions or lessons, or from taking a ‘learning walk’ around the setting or school, or as presented through photographs, audio/video CDs.

How is achievement of a Quality Mark recognised?

The Early Years Quality Mark is a registered logo that can only be used by currently accredited award holders. Individual schools and settings are entitled to display this logo, which is supplied electronically, on information and publicity materials, such as a letterheads, prospectus and/or advertisement. Award holders also receive a Quality Mark plaque, which can be wall mounted, and an award certificate.