In the next blog in our A Fair Start? series, Steve Brine*, MP for Winchester and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Childcare and Early Education, writes about the need for more funding for the sector.

As the Government debates an Autumn/Winter Covid-19 plan, and parents wonder whether education will be affected going forward, the spotlight falls on the childcare sector once more.

As a Conservative MP, who is hugely proud of the landmark commitment this Government has made as the party of the family through the 30-hours entitlement, I spoke at the recent Westminster Hall Debate on Early Years Funding, highlighting the calls made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Childcare and Early Education, of which I am Chair, for adequate funding to put our early years sector on a sustainable footing.

The Government’s 30 hours for the parents of 3- and 4-year-olds was rolled out in September 2017, covering 38 weeks of the year with an additional 15 hours for disadvantaged 2-year-olds. There was also the additional £44m in investment for 2021-22 to enable local authorities to increase hourly rates for early years providers. However, despite this investment, there is still a shortfall in funding.

Data from the Early Years Alliance has shown there is a gap of £2.60 per child, per hour, for every 30 hours’ place. This just under £3,000 per child, per year.

The APPG on Childcare and Early Education has called on the Treasury and Department for Education to fully fund all 30 hours places as part of a ‘catch up premium’ for the Early Years Sector in the next Spending Review. Those who are from low- or no-income backgrounds stand to benefit the most from high-quality early education but as The Sutton’s Trust recent, and excellent, “A Fair Start?” report notes, most of the country’s poorest families are locked out of the entitlement to 30 hours of funded provision at age three to four, as the additional entitlement is only for children of ‘working parents’. I hope the new Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, will take this into careful consideration as he takes up his new brief.

However, in addition to quantity of funding, there is also the issue of quality, and getting the money to where it is most needed. Tens of millions of pounds is potentially going to waste, enough to fully fund 30-hours places for 20,000 children under our proposed catch-up premium. Merely by overhauling the system and tackling the existing underspend, we could fully fund 20,000 30-hours places for children right across our country.

This is just one example of how renewing the funding system will ensure that the existing funding follows the child and is best used.

That is why the APPG is urging both the Department for Education and the Treasury to come together to conduct a meaningful review of early years funding. This would include:

  • A multi-year funding settlement to allow providers certainty and planning over the coming years.
  • Developing a mechanism for funding allocation to address rising costs.
  • Ensuring providers can pay our vital early years professionals the National Living Wage.
  • Simplifying the funding system to ensure that Government funding follows child and that parental understanding around the entitlement is improved is important, especially for two-year olds and tax-free childcare.
  • All allocations of early years funding are undertaken considering of the needs of children with SEND across all settings.

As The Sutton Trust points out, the first four years of children’s lives are a crucial period for education equality and play a significant role in determining their chances later in life. Their calls for equal access to early education and childcare, better funding for disadvantaged children, and a focus on quality are at the very core of what our system for early education and childcare should look like.

The public too is aware of the importance of this issue; almost 113,000 people signed the e-petition calling for an independent review of childcare funding and affordability. I am confident that we can do more to create a sustainable future for the early years sector, and I hope that the Government will take note of the APPG’s calls and The Sutton Trust’s recommendations to do so.

We must make our early years funding system work for the children of this country and their families who rely on it, and reward adequately those who work in it. Nursery setting have remained open and ready to receive children throughout the pandemic while over the same period staffing costs have risen on average by 8.6%, including through National Living Wage and pension contributions.

I am delighted The Sutton Trust has addressed this crucial issue in their report and I hope we will continue to recognise the invaluable contribution of early years educators and, most importantly of all, provide an unparalleled early years education for the future of our country.

*Steve Brine was first elected MP for Winchester in 2010. Steve has served in numerous Government roles including Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Jeremy Hunt, Assistant Government Whip under Theresa May, and as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health. Steve currently serves as Chair for the APPG on Childcare and Early Education. Steve is a former radio journalist and has worked with one of the country’s leading consultancy firms specialising in customer care, culture change and people development.

The opinions of guest authors in our A Fair Start? series do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Sutton Trust.

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