Following the release of the Ofsted Early Years report earlier this week, there has been a lot of commentary on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s view that there’s a strong case for getting poorer two-year-olds into schools early to help close the persistent attainment gap, currently around 19 months.
Regardless of which side of the debate you sit on, I hope we all agree that a high quality early years provision can make a huge impact on a child’s life, giving benefits that can last a lifetime. Put simply, there is evidence that poorer children do better in school and beyond, when they attend a good early years setting. So the good news is that the Early Years report announced 85% of early years providers are now rated Good or Outstanding (13% Outstanding) and that these high quality providers are evenly spread across all types of early years care.
So, does it matter whether that early years setting is a school, a nursery or a childminder? Sir Michael’s view is that schools have more access to specialists in speech and language, behavioural issues and better parental support, as well as highly trained, graduate teaching staff, and the ability to transition a child into a reception class quickly and easily.
However, there is a reason that fewer than 5000 schools in the UK accept 2 year olds. The other side of the argument goes that most schools would have to make huge changes to their set up to cater for everything from nappy changes to lunchtime naps. Most importantly, many have been asking whether primary school teachers are adequately trained and experienced in caring for and teaching two-year-olds, which unquestionably presents different challenges and requires a different approach to teaching a reception class.
Interestingly, only nine per cent of those two-year-olds in schools are on a funded place, meaning schools are currently taking a disproportionate number of children from better-off families. There are 40 local authorities where there are no disadvantaged two-year-olds in any maintained school.
At NurseryBook, it also concerns us that nearly half (42 per cent) of all two-year-olds (around 113,000), eligible for 15 hours of free early education, have not taken up their place in any type of setting but we would like to understand why this is – a lack of places, a lack of information or an informed and considered decision to keep them at home with a parent?
We will continue to follow the debate – and outcomes – with interest. As we have said many times, we passionately believe all children deserve a great start in life and access to high quality childcare, if appropriate for their family. This needs to be an informed decision, where parents understand the impact high quality care can have on their children’s future, have a choice of high quality care close to them and can consider all this in the light of their own family situation.