The Times Education Commission has today published a report which calls for “A significant boost to early years funding targeted at the most vulnerable and a unique pupil number from birth, to level the playing field before children get to school.”
It also calls for wellbeing to be put at the heart of education and for a 15-year strategy “drawn up in consultation with business leaders, scientists, local mayors, civic leaders and cultural figures, putting education above short-term party politics and bringing out the best in our schools, colleges and universities.”
There is much to welcome in the report which takes a broad and balanced view of the role of education in society. Its chapter on Social Mobility and Levelling Up includes multiple recommendations relating to the early years:
- The eight programmes that support childcare should be managed by the Department for Education, rather than across three departments, and brought together into a single pot. Funding should be targeted at the most disadvantaged and focused on education and child development.
- The 30-hour entitlement should be extended to non-working parents to ensure that the children with the least support at home get it in a professional setting. This would cost about £250 million a year for all three and four year-olds, or £165 million if only disadvantaged children got the extra hours. Removing the 30-hour entitlement from families where at least one parent earns more than £50,000 a year would save about £100 million a year, if set below £40,000, it would be cost-neutral.
- The early years pupil premium of £302 should be brought into line with primary school rates of £1,345. Raising it, at an estimated cost of £130 million a year, would make it easier for nurseries to breakeven, reduce the reliance on cross-subsidy and allow providers to pay their workers a more competitive wage.
- There should be a better career structure, professional development and training for early years teachers to develop a well-qualified workforce with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to deliver high-quality early education.
- Every child should get a “school readiness card” at the end of nursery, describing their skills and
- A unique pupil number allocated at birth would encourage greater co-ordination and data-sharing between government agencies (such as education, health and social services) to stop the most vulnerable falling through the gaps.