Call for Government to refocus its childcare strategy as attainment gap set to grow

Karen Faux
Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Report calls for urgent action to provide high-quality early years provision for the most disadvantaged children as a way to combat expanding ‘cold-spots’ of deprivation in England.

The disparity between ‘coldspots’ – areas in England where social mobility is low – and the rest of the country is on course to deepen, unless urgent action is taken, according to an enquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility.

The attainment gap in exam results between pupils from different backgrounds is one of the key factors leading to the persistence of these 'coldspots'.

While the gap has been slowly narrowing, the latest findings suggest that at the current rate it will take more than 40 years to close.

Importance of early years
The quality of early years education needs to be addressed as a priority. According to the report, current government policy has shifted the focus from good quality early years provision to one of providing childcare to enable parents to work, which is affecting the quality of early years settings.

The report calls for ring-fenced funding for children’s centres and a ‘reinvigorated strategy’ to halt their decline. The inquiry heard how children’s centres are seen as key to improving outcomes for disadvantaged children, but widespread closures and downgrades have worried many experts.

It says that around a third of the 1,263 children’s centres that were open in December 2009 are now closed.

For those that remain open their remit has expanded so that they no longer focus on early intervention.

  • Closing the gap at a premium
  • Project tackles the attainment gap

    Key recommendations

    The Government should complete the long-promised review of the children’s centre programme and publish a reinvigorated National Strategy on children’s centres in 2019. It should also ringfence funding for children’s centres and ensure that they are able to reconnect with their original purpose, focusing on the 0-five years age range.
    The government should move towards giving early years teachers Qualified Teacher Status, with the increase in pay, conditions and status this would entail, and should invest in improving qualifications for all practitioners in the sector. A dedicated funding pot, similar to the old Graduate Leader Fund, is important to achieving this.

Patchy progress
Progress is spread unevenly across the country, with ‘coldspots’ in areas including Norfolk, Somerset and Blackpool. London is significantly ahead of the rest of England in raising the attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While disadvantaged pupils in the North East had the lowest scores, there is not a simple north/south divide, with the South East and South West both performing poorly for their disadvantaged pupils. The South East has an attainment gap twice the size of Inner London.

The enquiry underlines that more collaboration is needed between schools, local authorities and universities as the only way to break the link between social background, geography and educational success. 

Repurposing the Social Mobility Premium
The report calls for the Pupil Premium to be repurposed into a new Social Mobility Premium, which could be used for professional development and extra support for teachers in deprived areas, and to help incentivise greater collaboration between schools and other local partners. This would send a strong signal that there is Government determination, backed by resources, to deliver real improvements in social mobility, it says.

Labour MP Justin Madders MP, co-chair of the APPG on social mobility, said, ‘Social background and geography are still huge influences on educational success and it will require a combination of big picture thinking and local understanding to change that. Each area has its own challenges, so we would like to see more focus on local collaboration between schools, local authorities and universities, harnessing the successes of the London Challenge, and with a focus on social mobility coldspots.’

The APPG’s co-chair Baroness Tyler, a Liberal Democrat peer, said, ‘If we are to improve social mobility in this country, it is key that we tackle the issues addressed during our inquiry. A focus on the early years is essential and we’d like the Government to publish a re-invigorated strategy for children’s centres with a much stronger focus on social mobility. We hope that the Prime Minister, and her government, will look closely at all the findings and recommendations of this report.’

Read the report here


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