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Perverse childcare policy entrenching disadvantage

FEBRUARY 14, 2020

A report published by the commons Education Committee has found government early years policy is entrenching disadvantage and has called for an urgent reform of the 30 hours funded childcare offer.

The Committee found that the government's "confused approach" to early years education is widening the attainment gap between better and worse-off children and in its highly critical report, states that the government's life chances strategy was "never published", its social mobility action plan "did not fully address the role played by the early years", and its flagship 30 hours policy "is entrenching disadvantage rather than closing the gap".

The report,  Tackling Disadvantage in the Early Years which resulted from the committee's Life chances inquiry, calls for urgent government action in three key areas to help improve the situation.

The flagship policy of 30 hours of free childcare has been widely criticised by the sector for prioritising getting parents into work, rather than being grounded in the needs of children.

The report states: "We recommend that the government review its 30 hours childcare policy to address the perverse consequences for disadvantaged children.”

The attainment gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged children is already evident when children begin school aged five and the report calls for action by government to reduce the earnings cap for the 30 hours childcare and use the extra funding to provide quality early education for disadvantaged children.

Commenting on the findings, committee chairman, Robert Halfon MP, highlighted the significant social injustices in children's life chances in England which early years childcare and education is failing to address. He also called for maintained nurseries, which "often deliver excellent outcomes for disadvantaged kids", to be protected with the right funding support. He also called on government to come forward with a comprehensive strategy for early years services, including children's centres and family hubs, to give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life.

The report welcomed a cross-government working group, chaired by Andrea Leadsom MP, which is reviewing how to improve support for families in the period around childbirth to the age of two but clearly government must work in partnership with the early years sector to develop this strategy if it is truly going to tackle the entrenched disadvantage that the report uncovered.

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