Parental participation in pre-school provision does not reflect a close partnership between parents and pre-school service providers in the statutory sector. A multi-method approach involving survey, interviews and observations revealed that opportunities across pre-school provision for parental participation vary considerably between different types of provision. While parental needs for participation were largely satisfied by the levels and types of participation offered in the playgroup sector, parental willingness to participate in local authority (LA) and private nurseries is not matched by the opportunities available, particularly with respect to active help in daily activities. This desire for increased levels of parental participation stems from three sources: (i) to monitor and obtain feedback on their own child's progress; (ii) to enable them to experience how pre-school provision is delivered; and (iii) to satisfy their own needs for social contact and making friends. Results suggest that parents' actual and desired participation falls short of genuine partnership and raise questions about parental training and the precise roles and responsibilities which parents should have.