Early years system too disjointed, warns Commissioner

The early years system is disjointed and often failing to support disadvantaged children who need help the most, the Children’s Commissioner for England has warned.

In a new report out today, Anne Longfield calls for an overhaul of the early years system in England.

The report warns too many children, particularly those growing up in disadvantaged families are already behind by the time they start formal education.

Last year, 29% of five- year-olds in England were not at the expected level of development by the time they started school, including 45% of children receiving free school meals.

In Middlesbrough, 38% of children are not achieving the expected level of development aged 5, while in Dudley and Sandwell it is 35% of children.

As part of the overhaul, the report calls for an ‘early years guarantee’ with extended free childcare and early education for children aged one to five and increased family support.

It comes amid a recent warning from childcare providers that one in four nurseries and pre-schools fear closure within the year, rising to one in three in the most disadvantaged areas, as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

In the report, the commissioner calls for an emergency recovery package for the childcare providers whose finances have been worst affected by COVID-19.

She adds ministers should also reconsider the design of Universal Credit which makes it hard for lower earning families to get help with childcare, as parents have to pay costs upfront and then wait to be repaid.

‘Each year 82,000 children in England start school significantly behind where they should be at the age of 5. That is 1 in 7 children, or four children in every classroom,’ said Ms Longfield.

‘This report shows that their life chances can already be undermined at this point, if there is no joined up system of early support to help them get ready to learn.

‘The government must make the early years a priority and drive reforms so that all children start school ready and able to learn and progress. Alongside high-quality early education, this means making sure that every family is guaranteed the support they need to help their young child to thrive, and to prevent early challenges turning into serious problems.

‘This “Best Beginnings” guarantee should make early years a central building block of the national recovery plan to level up children’s life chances, support families and boost the economy.’

The chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, Neil Leitch said the Commissioner is ‘absolutely right’ to call for a wholesale review of the government’s approach to the early years.

‘For years, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have faced a fight for survival as a result of wholly inadequate funding levels. With the coronavirus pandemic placing even more pressure on provider finances, the fact is that many settings simply won’t survive if the government doesn’t take urgent action,’ said Mr Leitch.

‘As such, we are pleased to see that the Commissioner has echoed our call for an emergency recovery package for the sector, as well as a wider review of early years funding rates. Both measures will be vital if childcare providers are to be able to continue delivering quality, affordable care and education now and in the long term.’

Photo Credit – Picjumbo.com (Pixabay)

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