Today the Sutton Trust publishes a report which questions the wisdom of the government’s decision to prioritise quantity over quality in the early years. NAHT believes that with sufficient funding, it should be possible to provide both.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, the association which represents leaders in the majority of early years educational settings, said: “We want to see extra money for education, including early education before children start school, and renewed investment in critical services for families. Without proper investment, the youngest and most vulnerable in our society will be starting off behind, with uncertain chances of catching up.”
In NAHT’s recent School Ready Report, compiled jointly with the Family and Childcare Trust, eight out of ten school leaders reported that many children arriving at primary school are not ready to take part in classroom activities. Of these, 86 per cent were concerned that children’s school readiness is worse now than five years ago.
Anne Lyons, NAHT President, and head teacher at St. John Fisher Catholic Primary School said: “Cuts to public services are having a negative impact on families and children. The support that families of all kinds regard as essential are being cut back or have already disappeared. Cuts to school budgets mean that it’s also getting harder to address these issues once the children are in school.”
Judy Shaw, Headteacher of Tuel Lane Infant School and the chair of NAHT’s Early Years Council said: “We are absolutely convinced that early years education is the critical point for intervention to improve the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that the quality of provision makes all the difference in whether that intervention is successful.
“Competition between qualified teachers, graduates and good practitioners to work in the early years sector should be fierce. It should be an attractive career offering good professional development and remuneration. That is certainly not the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.
“Recruitment and retention of well qualified early years staff is becoming harder and harder. High-quality early years education makes a difference and changes lives. It can narrow the gaps between groups of pupils that we speak about so often. It can raise expectations and aspirations in families and communities and have a long-lasting impact on life chances.”
Ellen Broomé, Chief Executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, said: “There is strong evidence that early education can help to boost children’s outcomes and narrows the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers – but only if it is high quality. The Government must make sure that every child can access high-quality early education and that parents can get the right support to help them to give their children the best start in life.”
NAHT continues to lobby the government, focussing on four key areas:
- All early years learning should be led by a qualified teacher to secure the best outcomes.
- The 30 hours free childcare strategy, aimed only at working parents and not those in training for example, could displace disadvantaged pupils from childcare places at a time when demand still exceeds supply.
- The decline in health and social care support for families, including closing children’s centres, and the cuts to welfare benefits for families is having a negative impact on the very youngest and most disadvantaged children.
- The early years pupil premium should be at the same level as for primary, £1300 not £300 to recognise that this is the most crucial phase of education to ‘close the gap’.
The next stage of work will occur in Birmingham on 6 October when school leaders from around the country will gather for NAHT’s Early Years Conference.
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