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Quality of childcare more important than number of hours, analysis says

By Rachel LawlerChildren playing early years childcare

Researchers at the London School of Economics have warned that only “high-quality” early years provision has a measurable effect on children’s outcomes, ahead of next month’s election.

In a background briefing, produced as part of a series exploring various election issues, the researchers stated: “To date, expansions of early years provision has not been very successful in improving child development.”

The briefing notes that many children were already attending early years settings before the roll-out of funded hours in the early 2000s. It also explains that only “high quality provision has a measurable effect on outcomes”.

Impact on outcomes
However, it also noted that achieving high quality provision is “not easy” and stated that “putting more graduate-trained workers into nursery has very little effect on children’s outcomes”.

In order to improve child development, the briefing argues that policies should focus on the “quality of provision” and says that this will require “substantial investment”.

The paper says: “There needs to be a debate on whether universal coverage or targeted spending on quality provision is a better use of public funds. Much depends on the primary objective of the policy.”

Beyond the ballot box
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “We urgently need to decide what childcare is for in this country because, at the moment, it simply isn’t clear. You’d be hard pressed to argue that most ‘free’ entitlements were designed to encourage child development, particularly when they fail to target those children who really need support and, like other recent childcare policies, clearly benefit more affluent families.

“The vast majority of settings are rated either good or outstanding, but we have long argued that the sector’s success in Ofsted ratings and parent surveys masks the scale of crisis we face. The fact is that the continued delivery of high-quality provision is almost impossible given the scale of underfunding and the challenges it creates, especially in the recruitment and retention of staff and the accessibility of places in deprived areas.

“The early years sector boasts a professional and dedicated workforce that’s equipped with world-leading curriculum in the EYFS. If the next government is serious about child development, then they need to think beyond what works at the ballot box and start putting our youngest children first. That doesn’t just mean increasing funding levels, it also means they being certain about the support they’re offering and how it targets those who need it most.”

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Ask your next MP to ensure that 'free' childcare is properly funded