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.
The proportion of families in the bottom third of the earnings distribution eligible for the 30 hour entitlement.
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
Under current government policy, all three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of early education and childcare per week, and since 2017 ‘working families’ meeting certain eligibility requirements have also been entitled to an additional 15 hours. But children from low income or workless households – the very children who would benefit most from extra provision – are locked out of these additional hours.
Access to the 30-hour entitlement for three-to-four-year-olds should be extended to families on the lowest incomes, to ensure the poorest children can have the best possible start in life. There are a number of options on how best to extend the entitlement to these children, from a targeted expansion to those eligible for the two-year-old offer, through to making the entitlement universal. Making the offer universal has several additional potential benefits, including simplifying access for families, providers and local authorities, as well as giving greater levels of financial security to settings.
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, which would better capture the additional needs of this group.
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.