The £20m fund, announced last summer, will be delivered from 2019 over two academic years to improve children’s early language, literacy and numeracy through high quality, evidence-based professional development support for early years practitioners in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.
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Nadhim Zahawi said that part of the fund would be used to appoint a national training partner to develop and deliver a comprehensive programme of continuing professional development to nominated Early Years “Champions” in over 50 local areas.
The minister said, ‘The champions will then disseminate this knowledge to practitioners in local partnerships.
‘We will fund local authorities to establish around 100 continuing professional development partnerships in areas identified as being in greatest need and pay for at least 400 champions to be trained. We anticipate that the benefits will be felt by up to 60,000 children in pre-reception settings.
‘We have been engaging with participating local authorities to start their planning and we expect to launch an invitation to tender very shortly to engage a national delivery partner for the project.’
The minister also announced £2.4 million funding for the National Children’s Bureau and nasen to deliver projects aimed at improving the confidence, knowledge and ability of the workforce to identify and support children with special education needs, with a particular focus on speech, language and communication.
Mr Zahawi said, ‘To inform all of our work we need to know with greater certainty, what approaches work best for supporting disadvantaged children.
‘Today the Education Endowment Foundation has announced the successful projects from round one of our ‘what works’ fund. One project involves piloting and testing a Canadian language programme that makes adults aware of the language they use and how they can model sophisticated language to children. These projects will help build the evidence base on early language, literacy, mathematics and staff development to inform practice across the country.
‘Round two of this fund has opened today and we particularly welcome bids for projects that focus on developing better evidence for reception year and early mathematics.’
The minister came under fire from delegates about ongoing underfunding issues of 30-hours childcare.
Linda Duly, the owner of Cuddles Day Nursery in Dorset, said, ‘How do you expect us to pay for this?' highlighting the rise to the National Living Wage and the fact that the funding in her areas had been £4.30 for over three years.
The minister reiterated that the Government was spending £6 billion on childcare. He added, ‘I’m also conscious of the sector making representations to me about funding.’
He referred to the research by Frontier Economics on funding that had found average costs of £3.72 an hour for providers for delivering places. He also added that Ofsted data from June this year showed that the number of childcare places ‘had been pretty much constant since 2012.
'The representations that the sector has made are clearly important for us to listen to and to have the evidence.’
In response to a question from Sarah Steel, managing director of the Old Station Nursery group, about why the Government had not made any changes to business rates, he said, ‘Local authorities can exempt providers. To date only two local authorities have delivered that exemption. It’s worth talking to local authorities [about this].’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘The sector really feels let down by your department. The funding is not adequate to deliver high-quality care.’
On business rates she added, ‘Scotland and Wales have made sure they give 100 per cent relief. Why couldn’t you have pushed that agenda? It’s the one single thing that could have improved [funding for the sector].’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, also criticised the minister for using the Frontier Economics research as a basis for funding costs.
‘In every single local authority providers are having to negotiate with parents [over costs]. The word “free” should be dropped,’ he said.
Mr Zahawi responded that the DfE’s Year 1 evaluation of the 30-hour scheme had found that 76 per cent of providers were willing and able to offer the 30-hour places.
‘That doesn’t mean I’m deaf on funding pressures,’ he added.
Mr Zahawi also updated the sector on the progress of the 30 hours, saying that over 340,000 children had benefited in the first year.
He said, ‘There’s no doubt that delivering 30 hours has been both ambitious and challenging. And we will continue to listen to feedback from local authorities, providers and parents, about how we can make the experience and process smoother. But through your hard work and determination the result has been amazing.
‘We know that getting the funding right is critical to the successful delivery of the free entitlements. To ensure we have an up to date evidence base on costs we have enhanced our annual Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers with more detailed research on provider finances and childcare fees for two- to four-year-olds.
‘We have also commissioned independent research as part of our ongoing monitoring of 30 hours implementation.'