Focus on quality in early years, politicians told

Focus on quality in early years, politicians told

Families with young children have been hit harder than any other household type under the coalition’s austerity measures, a group of early education specialists has warned.

The experts call on the next government to focus on increasing the quality of early years education, in a joint statement on the website of the charity Early Education and published in the Times Educational Supplement.

They stress: “The evidence shows that children who benefit most from high-quality early years provision are those whose families are struggling in the most challenging economic circumstances, but the substantial economic and social benefits of good early education are demonstrable for all society.”

They point out that recent political debate has focused almost exclusively on the accessibility and affordability of childcare for working parents.

“While Early Education recognises the need for this crucial childcare element to help alleviate parental unemployment and child poverty, children who are in need of an equitable start towards social mobility deserve more than good ‘care’. They need high-quality, professionalised early educators,” they say.

The authors estimate that this type of graduate-led profession costs more, “but not too much more; perhaps 10-15% on a setting’s existing budget”.

International evidence also implies quality early years provision cannot be delivered without some level of state support, they say.

This is not about “schoolification” of the early years, and a curriculum of “too much, too soon” but about “providing a suitably trained workforce capable of sensitively stimulating, challenging and extending these young children’s capabilities in an atmosphere which is caring, responsive and attentive to their wellbeing”.

Real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13.

Graduates should lead nurseries

Earlier this month, Save the Children published a report by the Read On Get on campaign that highlights the importance of good-quality early years education in strengthening young children’s language development.

Its key recommendation to the new government is that an early years graduate should lead every nursery by 2020, prioritising those serving disadvantaged children.

The report points out that early years teacher status is designed to be comparable with the qualified teacher status for school teachers, with the same tough entry criteria for university entrants. However, in practice the two qualifications are not portable between early education and schools.

The report wants the next government to rectify this by moving towards a single status for all teachers, with an early years specialism for those who want to work with young children.