Children’s Commissioner report demands investment in early years
By Rachel Lawler
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has called on the government to support the early years sector in a new report.
‘Best Beginnings’ takes an in-depth look at the early years sector in England and considers the need for an “overhaul” of the current system. It says that 29% of all five-year-olds, and 45% of those eligible for free school meals were not meeting the ‘expected level of development” by the time they started school in 2019.
The report calls for new investment in the early years, including an emergency recovery package for childcare providers worst hit by coronavirus; an ‘expanded 30 hours childcare’ offer for children from two-years-old; and 15 hours for one-year-old children.
Vital role of early years
Anne Longfield commented: “Nurseries and early years support play a vital role in helping children prepare for school, but Coronavirus and lockdown have put many at risk of closure. The consequences could be thousands of children missing out on vital support that sets them on a path to a good education and better prospects.
“At the same time, any economic recovery will need parents to able to return to work full time. Nursery closures could put a dent in plans to get the economy back on track.
“In the immediate term, we need an emergency Government rescue package to stop nurseries going under – but there is much more to do beyond that.
“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.”
Emergency recovery package
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: "The Children's 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.
"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.
"That said, we would urge caution on any recommendation to extend existing 'free childcare' schemes any further before any such review has taken place. While positive in theory for families, unless the current issues around underfunding are fully addressed first, such a move would only place more pressure on an already-struggling sector, and ultimately result in even more providers being forced to close their doors for good."
Find out more