A better trained early years’ workforce is vital if children from poorer backgrounds are to have a fair chance of succeeding at school, a new report from the Sutton Trust says today.

The report details the conclusions of those attending the Sutton Trust/Carnegie social mobility summit in May, which brought together researchers from the UK, US, Canada and Australia.

The researchers agreed that well-targeted investment in training those who work with young children was crucial, particularly in the UK which spends more than other countries on early childhood education, yet has bigger gaps between the richest and poorest four and five year-olds in school readiness (based on the top and bottom 10%). The US gap is 22 months, while that in the UK is 19 months, compared with 10.6 months in Canada and 14.5 months in Australia.

Parenting and the level of parental education were agreed to be the biggest factors lying behind these gaps. However, the education of early years and childcare workers matters as they can do a lot to improve the vocabulary, cognitive and social skills of young children, not least where they are not gaining those skills in the home.

Among suggestions to help improve social mobility through education, the report also urges:

  • A peer feedback programme for teachers, based on observations in the classroom to help their professional development, drawing on the best evidence across the world.
  • A work-based training route in further education for school leavers, designed and funded by employers, with support conditional on outcomes
  • Incentives for universities to engage with pupils earlier on, at the end of primary school and start of secondary school

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said today:

“The early years are vital to every child’s development, and essential to their future life chances and social mobility. The government is right to continue investing in the early years, with more places for poorer two year-olds, but it is vital that the workforce has the skills and education to provide those youngsters with a good vocabulary and the cognitive and social skills that will prepare them for school.

“Working with young children should not be seen as a lower skilled, lower paid or lower status profession than working with those over the age of five. Most of the gaps that we see between poorer and better off young people are evident from a very early age, so investing wisely at this stage can make a huge difference.”

The Sutton Trust will use the ideas from the summit to inform its future research work. £3 million is being invested over five years in an early years’ intervention fund, in partnership with the Impetus Trust.

The summit was addressed by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Opposition leader Ed Miliband and Education Secretary Michael Gove, who all agreed on the importance of addressing social mobility.

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