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30-hours could widen the social mobility gap, says Sutton Trust

By Rachel Lawler

A new report from the Sutton Trust has argued that the government’s 30-hours scheme could widen the gap between the disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.
The report, Closing Gaps Early by Dr Kitty Stewart and Professor Jane Waldfogel, says that the 30-hours offer is not designed to increase social mobility and argues that it is being implemented at the expense of quality early years education for disadvantaged children.
The report also says that funding for disadvantaged two-year-olds and the early years pupil premium do not do enough and have a limited impact.
Quality over quantity
The Sutton Trust has argued in favour of focusing on quality over quantity and suggests that the 30-hours offer be “reversed” unless the government is able to adequately fund the scheme and prevent a reduction in quality.
Sir Peter Lampi, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “It is understandable that the government wants to improve access to childcare for working parents. But this must not be at the expense of good early education for disadvantaged children. It is the quality of provision that matters. Focusing on getting it right for the poorest two and three-year-olds would make a much bigger difference to social mobility, by improving their changes at school and in later life.”
Funding cuts
The Sutton Trust also noted that the government has recently cut funding for graduate training for early years professionals and removed the requirement for nursery and reception classes to have a qualified teacher.  It called for funding to be secured to ensure that qualified teachers remain in place and to support greater career opportunities for early years professionals.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “While investing in a highly-qualified workforce, as this report recommends, is certainly one piece of the puzzle, qualifications in and of themselves are no guarantee of quality. There are plenty of years practitioners who may not have formal qualifications but are experienced, passionate, caring and have an excellent understanding of child development.”
Close the gap
However, Neil also said that the report was right to warn about the government’s focus on quantity over quality through the 30-hours offer. He said: " The government talks a lot about the need to ‘close the gap’ between the most disadvantaged children and their peers, and yet its flagship childcare policy actually risks making things worse. Research has shown that the 30-hour offer disproportionately benefits more well-off families, while those at the bottom end of the income ladder – whose children often gain the most from accessing quality early years provision – risk getting left behind.”
Neil added: “Ultimately, the government needs to decide what its priority is when it comes to early years policy: supporting children’s learning, or just getting parents back to work. Because it’s easy to talk about the importance of improving social mobility, but without the action to match those words, it’s all just empty rhetoric.”

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