Labour announces plans to launch a large-scale early years review

Kathy Oxtoby
Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The shadow education secretary has announced plans for a major review of early years provision, which would be led by Sir David Bell, former chief inspector of schools at Ofsted.

The shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson. Picture: UK Parliament
The shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson. Picture: UK Parliament

The shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has announced plans to launch a large-scale review of early years provision.

Sir David Bell, former chief inspector of schools at Ofsted, and the former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, would be chosen to lead the review.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (11 October 2023) the shadow education secretary said Sir David would ‘lead Labour’s work, to develop the Early Years Plan the next generation deserve’.

Labour said its review would develop a plan for the upcoming expansion of the early entitlement offers, consider major reform of the early years workforce, and inform the party's plan to deal with challenges around the lack of availability of early years places.

Review would consider major reform of the childcare workforce

The review would look at ways to use spare capacity in primary schools due to falling birth rates to provide additional early years places, and to remove restrictions on local authorities from opening nursery provision.

The review would consider major reform of the childcare workforce as well as inform Labour’s plan to deal with the lack of available childcare in England where there are two children for every childcare place.

Ms Phillipson said: ‘Our ambition starts, as education starts, at the beginning of all our lives: our childcare system must be about life chances for children, as well as work choices for parents.

‘That is why I am determined that new investment in childcare comes with ambitious reform, to ensure early education is available in every corner of our country for every family and every child, to drive up standards for our youngest children and for the amazing people who support and teach them.’

Launch of an early years review ‘a very positive step’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: ‘We have long argued that a clear and comprehensive long-term strategy for the early years is desperately needed, and the launch of an early years review would be a very positive step towards that goal. 

‘That said, for the proposed review to have genuine, long-lasting impact, those on the frontline in early years settings would need to play a key role in driving its direction and areas of focus. The early educators who work day-in and day-out to deliver quality care and education to our youngest children in the most challenging of circumstances know best what our sector needs, and so it’s critical that they are central to any decisions made about its future.’ 

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: ‘For a number of years we have been calling for a detailed review of early years policy because the system is not currently working for parents or providers. We welcome Labour’s plans for Sir David Bell to review this and look forward to working with him to provide the critical evidence and challenges facing the sector.’

June O'Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation said: 'As children from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to find access to quality nursery education – thereby increasing the attainment gap even further – we welcome Labour’s new ambitious review to fix what is currently a broken childcare system.'

Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed said: ‘We have been campaigning for a review of childcare for years. Without a review we will never truly understand why our childcare system is such a mess. We won't ensure that children with SEN are properly considered, and we won't be able to build a system that is sustainable as well as affordable.

‘We are elated to have confirmation that Labour is starting work on an independent review, but we need to be mindful of parents who are making decisions right now on whether they can afford to have more children based on the cost of childcare and their parental leave entitlements. For now, parents will continue to be confused about whether childcare will be more affordable under a Labour government. They need certainty so that they can plan for the future.’

“Real world” maths

The shadow education secretary also announced plans to encourage stronger lifelong numeracy by boosting early intervention and “real world” maths teaching at primary school. She said that Labour would look at introducing the ‘maths equivalent to phonics’.

Labour’s plans include extra training for primary school teachers who are not maths teachers, and helping nurseries develop “maths champions” who can support early learning in childcare settings.

NDNA’s chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: ‘We are delighted that Labour is keen to expand NDNA’s Maths Champions programme into more early years settings and primary schools.

‘We developed this programme to make a real difference to children’s learning and outcomes in maths by enhancing practitioners’ confidence in teaching and embedding early maths.’

Ms Phillipson also reconfirmed Labour’s plans to provide free breakfasts for primary school pupils.



Keep up to date with Early Years!

Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with Early Years education, process and events! We promise we won't spam you!