Labour launches 'big conversation' on early years

Catherine Gaunt
Friday, April 23, 2021

Labour is launching a programme of early years events, as part of what it is calling ‘a big conversation’ to talk to childcare providers and families.

Shadow early years minister Tulip Siddiq MP
Shadow early years minister Tulip Siddiq MP

On a visit to a London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) nursery with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and shadow education secretary Kate Green MP, shadow early years minister Tulip Siddiq MP will speak about how she wants a ‘big conversation’ on early years.

‘The early years are critical for a child’s development and childcare is a fundamental building block of our economy but, over the last decade, early years services have been neglected,’ she said, ahead of the visit.

‘This Conservative Government has failed to listen to families who have been unable to get the childcare, early education and wellbeing support they need. 

‘As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to have a big conversation with the public about how we can rebuild this essential infrastructure.’

The engagement events form part of as part of Labour’s Bright Future Taskforce, launched by the shadow education secretary in March, to develop a national strategy for children’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Labour highlighted Government data on local authority and school spending that shows that spending on Sure Start children’s centres and children under five has been cut by 40 per cent since 2015.

The figures show that the total expenditure by local authorities in the financial year 2019-20, on Sure Start children's centres and children under five was £560 million. This is a decrease of 6 per cent from the 2018-19 figure of £590 million. LA expenditure on this category has decreased each year since 2014-15.

Ofsted statistics show that there were 12,000 fewer childcare providers in England in August 2020 than in March 2015.

According to Labour analysis of Department fro Education research, 30,838 more early years providers are at risk of closure within a year. 

It has based its analysis of survey data from December 2020, that found that 44 per cent of childminders and 53 per cent of group-based childcare providers were not confident they would be financially sustainable to continue operating for another year or longer. 

Extrapolating these figures, Labour said this was equivalent to 30,838 providers at risk of closure (16,104 childminders and 14,734 group-based providers).

 

Total

Not confident to continue for a year or longer

Not confident to continue until at least July 

Childminders

36,600

16104

8784

Group based providers
(Providers in non-domestic and domestic premises)

27,800

14734

7228

Total

64,400

30838

16012

Labour analysis of DfE data, (Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers and Coronavirus (COVID19) – Wave 3, Research report, March 2021)

The party said that because millions of parents – particularly mothers – rely on formal childcare in order to work, this could mean that 345,000 women would be at risk of losing their jobs.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said, ‘The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout this pandemic, with had no plan to protect early years providers nor support the families who rely on their vital services.

‘Labour wants to see children at the heart of our national recovery. 

‘Through engagement with parents, providers, children and experts our Bright Future Taskforce will develop a national strategy to ensure every child can recover the learning and social development lost during the pandemic and has the chance to reach their full potential.’

June O’Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which runs the Harrow Road Nursery & Pre-School, said, ‘Nurseries are important for two reasons. Firstly, they support children’s learning, especially those who are disadvantaged and secondly, they provide a vital infrastructure to the economy by allowing parents to go to work. This is especially pertinent if we are to help people out of poverty. 

‘Yet for many years, families have been so very badly let down by consecutive governments that have all talked about the importance of the Early Years and access to high quality affordable childcare, yet no one is prepared to fund it properly. This is despite the raft of research which shows how important it is to a child's long-term educational success. 

‘We welcome the launch of this “big conversation” and an actionable strategy that ensures every child can recover from the pandemic and reach their full potential.’

'True cost of providing services'

Sector organisations welcomed the news, but said that there needed to be an ‘honest and open’ conversation about funding.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said ‘We absolutely need to talk, and keep talking, about the early years. We know the first five years of a child’s life are crucial to their long-term development, and yet when we talk about education, we only talk about schools, colleges and universities. We know that strong early years provision, staffed by qualified professionals, has a dramatic impact on life chances, and yet when we talk about attainment, we only talk about GCSE and A-level results.

‘The shocking loss of more than 12,000 early years providers in just five years, and the potential loss of thousands more, is clearly the result of the sustained underfunding of the sector – which itself is a result of the continued failure of Government to put the early years at the centre of its education agenda.

‘A conversation about how we can provide the best education, care and support for our under-fives and their families is long overdue, but this simply must include an open and honest discussion about the true cost of providing these services. It is only with proper investment that we can ensure that all children, regardless of background, can continue to access the quality early education and care that they deserve.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘For years NDNA has been providing our own research and evidence about under-funding of early years and the funded entitlement to the Government in order to increase their investment in children’s crucial developmental years.

‘We all know how important early learning and childcare is for children’s development, in reducing the attainment gap and giving all children the chance to realise their full potential. 

‘The vast majority of funded childcare places are taken up in nurseries so it’s vital that the funding is fair and works for providers and parents.

‘We want to see this policy put right so that providers don’t have a shortfall which is often passed onto parents. We want a full review into funding and the funding approach to take place and will work with MPs and ministers to get it right for early years.’

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