THE BLOG

Early Education And Care Needs To Be More Than Just A Bung To Better Off Parents

31/08/2017 16:52

With a singular focus on early years' policies, which subsidise the already well off, the Government is leaving disadvantaged children lagging further and further behind. Failing these children will lead to wasted talent and frustrated lives, and a social mobility penalty the country has to pay.

Britain languishes at the bottom of the international league tables when it comes to using early years' investment to tackle disadvantage. Some disadvantaged children are 15 months behind their peers even before they enter the primary school gate. Many never catch up, with the biggest indicator of how well a child does at GCSE, their developmental progress by the age of five.

Early years' investment has always been a balance between supporting working families with childcare costs on the one hand and increasing life chances and social mobility for the disadvantaged on the other. However, a new report I'm publishing today with the Social Market Foundation, reveals a shocking new imbalance between these aims. The proportion of new government spending on early education and care initiatives over this Parliament, which support narrowing the gap for the most disadvantaged children, is just 2.7%, or £250million, of a massive £9.1bn spending.

For the bottom half of families, or the just about managing, the news isn't much better, with only around a quarter of the new expenditure supporting their childcare and early education needs. That means a shooting three quarters of the new government money for the early years going to the top half of earners. Higher income families are by far and away the main beneficiaries of the majority of the new tax-free childcare support. The Resolution Foundation has also shown that better off families will benefit significantly more under the 30 hours free childcare scheme, which launches tomorrow. Let's not forget you can get this new help if parents are earning up to £100,000 each.

This huge skewing of resources will set social mobility back with better off children getting even more of a head start. Alongside this, schemes which have a positive impact on child development are being left to flounder. The two year old offer is failing to reach all those eligible, despite new evidence showing that it is having a positive impact on development. Alongside this, £250 million of public money is being squandered on low quality early education and care.

It's time to break the consensus that sees children of working parents gaining ever more than poorer children. Ministers must make social mobility the key test for all its early years policies.

Ministers should scrap Tax Free Childcare and reverse their Inheritance Tax giveaway, refocussing this investment to close the pre-school attainment gap forever. Children's Centres should be reformed and revitalised to support the delivery of a Best Start Guarantee from conception to school for all families, checking development progress and ensuring children and families get extra support if they need it.

A new 10 year Early Education and Care Strategy should deliver universal high quality free teacher-led early education from age one to five. Pupil premium funding should double. The number of Maintained Nursery schools should increase, and poor performing early years settings should be supported to improve, or lose their public money.

We must embrace public service reform too if we are to better focus services on tackling disadvantage and boosting development. 91 per-cent of early years settings are good or outstanding, yet half of poorer children do not reach a good level of development. This can't be right. Ofsted and the Early Years Foundation Stage need reform, to make them more robust and ensure providers make narrowing the development gap, and ensuring all children have strong foundations to learn, a bigger priority.

Let's not just have bungs for better off parents. Children's life chances are too often preordained at pre-school. It's time to break that cycle and prioritise social mobility in the early years.

Lucy Powell MP is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Manchester Central. A Lost Generation, her report on prioritising social mobility in early years, was published today with the Social Market Foundation.

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