About the Environment Rating Scales (ERS)

The Environment Rating Scales are a set of tools for measuring and improving the quality of early years provision.
They provide us with a structure for recording, improving and evidencing different aspects of the learning environment we provide for children. The ERS are used by researchers and practitioners all over the world to support reflection, self-evaluation, quality assessment and improvement. In the UK they are used by more than 50 local authorities and thousands of practitioners in all sectors, guided by the findings of the EPPSE research which identified a strong relationship between high quality early years provision and children's later development. 
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There are five Environment Rating Scales in all, each designed to evaluate a different early years context:
  • Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS-R) - centre-based provision for children from birth to 30 months
  • Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale Third Edition (ECERS-3) - centre-based provision for children aged from 3 to 5 years*
  • Extension to the ECERS-R (ECERS-E) – specific areas of learning and development for children aged 3 to 5 years
  • School Age Care Environment Rating Scale (SACERS) - out-of-school provision for children aged 5 to 12 years
  • Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale (FCCERS-R) - childminding provision for children from birth to twelve

* The predecessor to the ECERS-3 (ECERS-R) began at 30 months, to follow directly on from the ITERS. The ITERS is currently being revised to cover the birth to three age range so that it aligns with the new ECERS-3.

The Environment Rating Scales:
  • Are internationally recognised, evidence-based tools for improving the quality of the learning environment
  • Are suitable for all types of early years settings and schools
  • Were used in the EPPE research and have been shown in many studies to relate to child outcomes
  • Support self-evaluation and reflection for practitioners and for leaders/managers
  • Provide a measurable ‘profile’ of quality and concrete steps for improvement
  • Can be used to track progress over time and to provide evidence for Ofsted
  • Are used by local authorities and practitioners across England and worldwide
  • Are recognised by Ofsted
  • Align closely with the EYFS

  • The ERS are completed using an observation-based audit. They are designed to give a snapshot of provision on a particular day. A whole observation for one group/room takes half a day to complete. The scales can also be used for self-evaluation, one item at a time. Each item (e.g. ‘informal use of language’) includes a series of statements or quality indicators, arranged in a progression of quality from low to high. These indicators ‘stack up’ like building blocks to celebrate strengths and to highlight possible improvements. The scoring system allows each item to be given a score from 1 (inadequate) to 7 (excellent). While the scoring system is not the most important part of the process, it does provide a useful means of measuring quality - and improvement in quality - over time.

  • 3_covers_overlapped The ECERS-R/3, ITERS-R and FCCERS-R are divided into sub scales which evaluate provision for children:
    • Space and furnishings (e.g. room layout, accessibility of resources, display)
    • Personal care routines (e.g. health & safety, meal times, provision for sleeping)
    • Listening and talking/language and reasoning/language and literacy (e.g. supporting communication and language development, critical thinking)
    • Activities/Learning Activities (e.g. the range and accessibility of resources to support specific types of play)
    • Interaction (e.g. support for social interactions, the ‘emotional environment’)
    • Programme structure (e.g. the balance between child-initiated and adult-directed play)
    • Parents and staff/provider (e.g. partnership with parents, professional development opportunities)
    ERC_Cover_Picture The ECERS-E is divided into four subscales:
    • Literacy (e.g. opportunities for emergent writing, letters and sounds)
    • Mathematics (e.g. number, reasoning)
    • Science and environment (e.g. supporting children’s critical thinking, understanding the natural and physical world)
    • Diversity (e.g. planning for children’s individual learning needs, valuing and respecting other cultures)
    ERC_Cover_Purple The SACERS is divided into seven subscales:
    • Space and furnishings (e.g. room layout, accessibility of resources, display)
    • Health and Safety (e.g. health policy and practice, meal and snack times)
    • Activities (e.g. the range and accessibility of resources to support specific types of play)
    • Interaction (e.g. support for social interactions, the ‘ emotional environment’)
    • Programme structure (e.g. the balance between child-initiated and adult-directed play)
    • Staff development (e.g. professional development opportunities)
    • Special needs (e.g. meeting individual learning needs, modifications to the physical and playwork environment)
    • Special cosy area accessible much of the day (ITERS-R Item 3 Provision for relaxation and comfort)
    • Well-balanced age-appropriate food served for meals and snacks (ITERS-R Item 7 Meals/snacks)
    • Free play occurs daily for much of the day, some indoors and some outdoors.... (FCCERS Item 32 Free play)
    • Careful supervision of all children adjusted appropriately for different ages and abilities (ECERS-R Item 30 General supervision)
    • Staff add information to expand on ideas presented by children (ECERS-R Item 18 Informal use of language)
    • Staff show respect for children
    • (SACERS Item 29 Staff-child interactions)
    • All children actively encouraged to take part in counting objects in a variety of contexts (ECERS-E Item 7 Counting)
    • Many and varied appropriate fine motor materials for each age group, accessible for much of the day (FCCERS-R Item 16 Fine motor)
    • Ample materials/equipment for physical activity so children have access without long periods of waiting (ITERS-R Item 16 Active physical play)
  • Our philosophy for the Environment Rating Scales:
    • positive and inclusive use
    • reflective use
    • objective and rigorous use
    • as one tool in a toolkit
    • supporting the work and aims of practitioners

    Some important messages:
    • Informing not judging: the ECERS and other scales are most powerful when used in a reflective way. They provide information to guide decision-making rather than a quality ‘blueprint’. They should always be used alongside other tools – and, of course, the EYFS.
    • Inclusive use: the scales are positive tools, ideal for use by whole-staff teams to support self-evaluation or alongside a trained external observer or ‘critical friend’. ECERS is not an inspection tool.
    • The scores will reflect your practice – but also your constraints: the scales reflect the ‘ideal situation’ and every setting will have some high scores and some low. The environment is defined in its broadest sense to include the staff and their practice but also the quality of the environments they work in. Some scores may therefore reflect the constraints of your building (e.g. space) rather than your practice – and this is quite normal. The aim is to raise overall quality by working on areas which can be developed while recognising that others might be harder to address.
    • Consistent use: these systematic tools are accessible and easy to understand, but using them consistently and accurately takes time, training and practice. We want to encourage all practitioners to use these valuable tools for self-evaluation - but it is important to recognise that you are ‘practising’ and using them in a developmental way.

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