Our Senior Research and Policy Manager, Dr Rebecca Montacute, explains the how you can help us in our campaign to help equalise access to great early years education.

Joe and Sammy have a lot in common. They’re both three years old, both have spent most of their young lives so far in varying levels of pandemic disruption, they live on the same street, and both are just starting in early years education at a local nursery this year.  

But while Joe will start going to nursery for 30 hours a week, with all the opportunities to learn, play and make friends that come along with it, Sammy will not have the same experience. For Sammy, nursery will only be for 15 hours per week, and she will miss out on many of the hours of education, play and early development that Joe will experience.  

What is the difference between them? Their parents’ working situations. Joe’s parents both work full time, but while Sammy has one parent in full time work, the other works part time, and does not meet the government’s working requirements for the 30 hour entitlement. Sammy’s parents can’t afford to pay for the extra hours themselves.  

Joe and Sammy are fictional, but this story is being reflected in the experiences of toddlers up and down the country. Our landmark research on the 30 hour policy found that lower income families are the least likely to be able to access the 30 hour policy, with just 20% of families in the bottom third of the earnings distribution eligible for the full offer.  

Some, like Sammy’s fictional parents, don’t qualify because they don’t work enough hours and/or earn enough, with many parents wanting to work more but unable to do so without childcare already in place. And others are ineligible for different reasons, for example because they’re studying or in training, rather than in work. 

Nursery is about much more than just childcare, it’s about providing foundations for a lifetime of education. The attainment gap between the poorest young children and their better-off counterparts is already several months wide by the time they start at school, and our research on the 30 hour policy has found evidence that suggests it is contributing to a widening of this gap. These gaps will only grow throughout their school years.  

Regardless of their parents’ working situation, we wouldn’t accept the state providing longer hours at school for wealthier families, so why are we accepting it in the early years? Priority should be in fact the other way around: providing more support for children from low income families, not less. 

It’s time to fix the 30 hours policy, and give every young child an equal opportunity to play, learn and thrive. That’s why we’re calling on government to make 30 hours universal for all three and four year olds. But we need your help.  

As part of our ongoing campaign, the Sutton Trust is today launching its first ever email campaign to MPs, to call for reform to the 30 hour policy. By writing to your MP  in Westminster, you can make sure your representative in parliament knows about this issue, and that it matters to their constituents.  

As part of our campaign, we’re also looking for parents who can’t currently access the 30 hour entitlement for their children. If you have a child who is three to four years old who isn’t eligible for the extended entitlement, get in touch and tell us about your experience.   

Every child deserves an equal start in life. You can help make that happen. Please take just 5 minutes to write to your MP using our easy online tool. Together, we can make sure that every child has a fair start. 

Watch our campaign video below.

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