Early years sector voices concern over Brexit

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Leaders in the early years sector have been weighing up the cost to childcare policy of the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

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Sector organisations said they were concerned that early years policy would be sidelined in the wake of the EU referendum, as MPs would be inevitably focussing on the fallout.

They urged the Government not to neglect important work in bringing in 30 hours of free childcare, the workforce strategy and early years funding.

In its response, PACEY warned that an end to freedom of movement within Europe could cause problems with staff recruitment.

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY said, ‘This is a worrying time for the future of the UK, and the future of the early years. There is a very real possibility that the end of freedom of movement of people across the EU will provide additional challenge to a sector already struggling to recruit staff to provide high quality childcare to children and families.

‘At a time when we need strong leadership to focus on delivering important areas of early years policy, it is a real concern that politicians and policy makers will be pulled into other priorities.’

She added, ‘We call on Government to deliver on its promises for early years and to see immediate action on the much-anticipated workforce strategy, the schools funding consultation, and to continue the important work to deliver 30 hours of free early education to eligible families from next year. It is vital that the early years does not get neglected in the fallout from this historic decision, and that all our children, including the most disadvantaged, get the best start they deserve amidst this uncertain future.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said it was a time of great uncertainty for the early years sector.

'Over the past few days alone, we have seen the Prime Minister announce plans to step down, the shadow childcare minister resign and a new shadow education secretary appointed, along with reports of a possible early general election,' he said.

'As such, it is as yet unclear what impact Brexit will have on the development of early years policy, and in particular the progress of the 30-hour offer. Given reports that the Government’s much-promoted life chances strategy is being placed on hold, we would be very concerned about any further delays on the development of the scheme, and in particular, the promised national early years funding formula. Both providers and parents need clarity on how things stand on this as soon as possible, and we hope that the Department for Education will provide further information on the state as play as soon as possible.'

Commenting on reports of a rise in incidents of racism believed to be fuelled by the EU referendum result, Mr Leitch added, 'Given the numerous reports of an increase in the number of racist and xenophobic incidents over the last few days suspected to be linked to the referendum result, now is a good opportunity for us all reflect on the importance of respect, equality and diversity, and to recognise the value of the continued steps that practitioners have taken - and continue to take - to embed these principles into their everyday practice.'

The National Day Nurseries Association said it was more important than ever that the sector worked together.

NDNA chief executive, Purnima Tanuku, said, ‘Events since Thursday have moved quickly. With such a momentous change underway, there will be implications for all of us in the early years sector – both personally and as employers and providers of early learning and childcare for children and families.

‘The strong case NDNA has made for policy focused on what is best for children - fairer funding, reforms to support our workforce, reduced red tape and better regulation – has gained momentum and we’ve secured pledges for reform. We are determined to see these pledges realised.   

‘In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we work together as an early years sector so we can continue to support children and families to flourish through excellent early learning and childcare.’

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said that the result had exposed divisions within the UK.

Sir Stuart Etherington said, 'The referendum has thrown into sharper contrast than ever previously a division in the United Kingdom. Questions of social mobility will rightly now come to the fore again. And we can hope that the racial tensions stoked so crudely and cruelly during the campaigning do not linger, but the risk of this is clear. Charities must now play their role in healing these divisions. They can and must help people in the communities they work with to understand, respect and cherish each other.'

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