The gap between the poorest children and their classmates by the time they start school.
The number of children's centres that have closed since 2009.
The proportion of staff working in early years settings without either English or maths GCSE, or both.
High quality early education
Research shows that disadvantaged children benefit most from high-quality early education. Well-qualified staff are vital in helping to close the gap in development before school starts. Yet many nursery staff lack good GCSEs in English and maths.
Much more needs to be done to increase the qualifications of staff, as well as providing career pathways to attract talent. A ‘Leadership Quality Fund’ should be introduced, which could be accessed by early years settings to attract, hire and pay qualified staff, or train existing staff
Priority should also be given to ensuring more early years staff gain Qualified Teacher Status, with the increase in pay, conditions and status this would entail. The aim should be to have a qualified teacher in every setting.
A fair funding arrangement
The government’s flagship childcare policy gives working parents 30 hours of free childcare a week, marking a shift in focus towards making childcare affordable, rather than targeting early education to where it is most needed.
As the entitlement is only for working parents, children who are already relatively advantaged are receiving more hours in state-funded early education.
There are concerns that this policy has had a negative impact on gaps in both school readiness for children and quality of provision. Eligibility for the 30 hours offer should be extended to all those eligible for the disadvantaged 2-year-old provision, which would include those out of work or on low incomes. This could be funded by restricting eligibility for households with high incomes.
There should also be more funding targeted at disadvantaged children, through an increase in the Early Years Pupil Premium. This should be increased to the same per hour rate as the primary school Pupil Premium. This would better capture the additional needs of this group, and challenges for providers in narrowing gaps in school readiness.
Parental engagement and the home learning environment
Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children’s early learning. Supporting parental engagement – especially among families facing challenging circumstances – should be a priority in any high-quality early years setting. But finding ways to increase parental engagement, especially among families in difficult circumstances, can be challenging.
Approaches which aim to support parental engagement and the home learning environment should be robustly evaluated to improve the evidence-base of what works.
Community based early years support
Children’s centres are a community resource that bring together services for young children and their families. The wider evidence suggests this can particularly benefit low-income families. Yet our research shows that the services on offer have been much reduced in recent years, including in the most disadvantaged areas.
The government should reinvigorate high quality, community based early years support in the most disadvantaged areas where children are likely to benefit the most. The central purpose of provision should be to promote positive child development and parental engagement for the 0-5 age group, with a focus on the most disadvantaged.
The proportion of early years providers in deprived areas who believe they may have to close.
The proportion of early years providers in deprived areas who believe they may have to make redundancies.
The proportion of parents whose child hadn’t returned to their provider felt stressed, worried or overwhelmed.
Early years pupil premium
The Early Years Pupil Premium should be increased to the same per-hour rate as the primary schools Pupil Premium to provide targeted support for disadvantaged children. This would better capture the additional needs of this group, and challenges for providers in narrowing gaps in school readiness. It would also provide some crucial financial support for providers during a challenging time.
High-quality early education
The workforce is crucial in delivering quality provision, and high-quality early education is more important than ever to narrow gaps in school readiness.
More needs to be done to increase the qualifications of staff, as well as providing career pathways to attract talent. A ‘Leadership Quality Fund’, which could be accessed by settings in order to attract, hire and adequately pay qualified staff, or train existing staff, is crucial to levelling up provision.
Access to childcare
Eligibility for 30 hours childcare should be extended to all those currently eligible for disadvantaged 2 year old provision, which would include those out of work or on very low incomes. As increasing numbers of parents become unemployed or are working on reduced hours or pay, fewer people will be eligible for the current 30 hours of free childcare entitlement, necessary to help people back into work. This could be funded by restricting eligibility for households with high incomes.
This would also need to be accompanied by a long-term commitment to increased levels of funding for these hours to ensure that delivery is viable for providers and quality of early learning provision is paramount.