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 years 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.
Priority should 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. More generally, the government should invest in improving qualifications for all practitioners in the sector.
A fair childcare entitlement
The government’s flagship childcare policy gives working parents 30 hours of free childcare a week, marking a shift in focus towards childcare affordability. Yet our research has shown that this policy has been implemented at the expense of providing high-quality early years education for disadvantaged toddlers.
As the entitlement is only for working parents, children who are already relatively advantaged are receiving more hours in state-funded early education, which may be expected to widen gaps in development. The government should consider the impact on equality of limiting the current 30 hours offer to children in working families, and review how to avoid the policy inadvertently increasing gaps in development before school starts.
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.