Commenting on a new policy briefing from the Sutton Trust warning of widening learning gaps in early years, Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The findings of this latest report on early years provision by the Sutton Trust are not surprising. Early Years education is vitally important but Early Years policy is heading in the wrong direction. Funding is not responsive to families with the greatest need. Staff are underpaid, and lack access to training and qualifications. By constantly representing early years provision as ‘childcare’ the present government has neglected the importance of high-quality education and lowered ambitions to a point which nobody should accept.
“Maintained nursery schools (MNS) provide the highest quality of early education which has a significant impact on children’s learning and development, the effects of which last long beyond their early years. MNS serve a disproportionately high number of children with SEND, and/or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may otherwise not access early education entirely. MNS will be forced to close without adequate funding. Good quality early years provision that is universally available will close the attainment gap and improve social mobility.
“The NEU calls on the present government to use the Spring Budget to provide sufficient resources to stabilise the sector, prevent further closures, support the recruitment and retention of a well-trained early years workforce and enable all types of families to flourish. The government must ensure that the most disadvantaged can access the free hours entitlement and the demands created by its plan to expand free hours from April 2024 is fully funded.
“Whoever wins the next election will have to go beyond the current commitment for early years. That government will have to increase funding and prioritise investment in disadvantaged areas. More than anything, it must ensure the long-term supply of a well-paid and well-trained workforce, qualified to support children's learning.”