A majority of parents of pre-school children (56%) are worried about the impact on their child’s overall development or wellbeing during the pandemic, according to new polling by YouGov published by the Sutton Trust today.

One in five (20%) of the 570 parents of 2-4 year olds surveyed feel that their child’s physical development had been impacted negatively during the pandemic, and a quarter (25%) feel similarly about their language development. However, a much bigger concern for parents is the impact on their child’s social and emotional development, with just over half (52%) citing this as being negatively impacted.

When it comes to the reasons behind these worries, over two-thirds (69%) of parents feel that not being able to play with other children has negatively impacted their child. A smaller proportion (63%) report that being unable to see other close relatives has affected their child.

Over half (51%) of parents feel that the government has not done enough to support the development of all pre-school age children during the pandemic.

The Trust is calling on the government to put the development and wellbeing of pre-school children at the heart of the education recovery plan. In a short brief, the Trust sets out its priorities for education recovery, of which the early years is key:

“The pandemic has reminded us how crucial the early years sector is for the functioning of our daily lives and our children’s futures. But it also laid bare the fragility of a sector which comprises many small and poorly funded private and voluntary providers, particularly those in less well-off areas.

An increase in the Early Years Pupil Premium to levels equivalent to those in primary school would help, as well as increased rates of funding, to invest in a skilled workforce that can make the most impact. Above all, we need to see early years provision as an opportunity to provide a great start in life for all children, and not just as a way to provide childcare.”

Today’s polling and brief are published after research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), found that 96% of schools were concerned about the communication and language development of children starting school this year. Three-quarters (76%) felt that pupils starting school needed additional support compared to pre-pandemic cohorts. Without a recovery plan that includes pre-school children, schools will have to pick up the pieces over the coming years.

The Trust is working with The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust to look in depth at how government policy can promote development in the early years. Specifically, the project will be looking at how to prioritise high quality early education and reduce the early years attainment gap before it takes hold.

Launched today, the project – called A Fair Start? – will investigate the feasibility and potential impact of extending eligibility for the ‘30 hours’ funded early education entitlement for children aged three and four, currently targeted at working parents, to the detriment of more disadvantaged children. Doing so has the potential to improve a range of outcomes for disadvantaged children, which could form a vital part of the recovery effort after the pandemic.

The Sutton Trust will be consulting with the wider early years sector and commissioning research that will assess both the economic and practical implications of a number of changes to the 30 hours policy.

Other key points from the Sutton Trust’s priorities for an education recovery plan that support social mobility include:

  • Eligibility for funded early education for three and four year olds should be increased beyond 15 hours, with a focus on those from less well-off homes.
  • Pupil premium and recovery premium funding, as well as National Tutoring Programme provision should be extended to 16-19 year olds in education and training.
  • Teachers should be incentivised through an expansion of phased bursaries or increased pay to work at and be retained by challenging schools in deprived areas.
  • An ambitious extended schools programme should be funded at a level which enables high quality provision, designed to attract the most disadvantaged and focused on essential life skills and wellbeing, as well as academic catch-up.
  • All disadvantaged pupils should have an ongoing entitlement to access to digital learning, including flexible use of school laptops or tablets, and data allowances/wireless dongles where necessary. Educational websites should be excluded from data allowances on an ongoing basis.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“No one doubts that the impact of the pandemic on children’s and young people’s life chances is going to have repercussions for many years – even decades – to come. Our own research has highlighted the disproportionate impact of school closures on poorer students, who have struggled most with home schooling.

“The recovery plan must be ambitious and long-term. Crucially, funding and efforts need to be focused on the most disadvantaged.

“But as today’s polling shows, we cannot forget the youngest children. It is more important than ever that there is greater access to high quality early education for younger children from poorer homes whose development is at risk of suffering the most.”


  • The Sutton Trust was founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to improve social mobility in Britain. The Trust has influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions; its programmes have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives; and it has published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research.
  • Out of an overall sample of 10,878 adults, YouGov PLC surveyed 570 parents of 2-4 year olds between the 6th and 12th of May 2021 online. Results have been weighted to be representative of GB adults aged 18+.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on the number below. The number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 0204 536 4642

Keep up to date with the latest news