The Sutton Trust has submitted to the joint inquiry into the foundation years and UK Government’s life chances strategy by the House of Commons Education Select Committee and Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The Sutton Trust’s response is attached.

Key points:

  •  We welcome the intentions behind many of the measures set to be featured in the Government’s life chances strategy, especially his goals to double the proportion of disadvantaged young people in higher education by 2020 (from 2009 rates). We also welcome the emphasis by the Prime Minister on the importance of supportive parenting, which is crucial to a child’s life chances, and has been identified as the single most important “protective” factor against disadvantage.
  • However, we are concerned that the role of early years education may also be absent from the strategy as it was overlooked in Prime Minister’s defining speech in January: high quality early education can be transformative for children’s outcomes where as low quality childcare produces either no benefit or even negative effects for young children. The impact is particularly significant for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The relationship between early years education and the life chances of a child are strong: there is a 19 month “school readiness” gap between the richest and poorest children at age five and, by the age of 16, children eligible for free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE than those not eligible for free school meals, which has knock on effects to access into higher education, future earning potential and life chances, and therefore the foundation years have a substantial impact on social mobility.
  • The evidence is also clear that positive parenting is more important that a parent’s educational, professional or socio-economic background. The Education Endowment Foundation Early Years Toolkit shows that parental engagement in early years education is consistently associated with children’s future academic success. To support the development of delivery and evaluation of impact of projects aimed at improving children’s development through engaging parents in their children’s learning, the Sutton Trust runs a Parental Engagement Fund with Esmee Fairbairn to identify what works.
  • To ensure cross-departmental co-ordination on early years interventions and interaction with the benefits system and public service, we would recommend a cross-departmental Minister of State for Early Years responsible for cross-government early years policy and strategy based in the Department for Education. This would mirror the approach already taken with skills policy between the DFE and BIS.

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