Early years education key in reducing disadvantage

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A new report by the OECD highlights the importance of early education in enabling children, particularly those from disadvantaged families, to gain essential social and emotional skills.


The OCED report says giving early access to education is key to closing the attainment gap

Published today, the OECD PISA report examines the trends of equity in education across developed countries and identifies the policies and practices that can help disadvantaged students succeed.

It finds that there is no country in the world that can yet claim to have entirely eliminated socio-economic inequalities in education and says every country can do more to improve.

According to the report, 'Equity in Education: Breaking down barriers to social mobility', a child’s socio-economic background continues to have the greatest influence on their academic achievement, with disadvantaged students more likely to attend ‘disadvantaged schools’.

It says that because gaps related to socio-economic status appear early, countries must consider ways to equalise learning opportunities during early childhood and adolescence in order to see greater improvements.

The report goes on to say that giving early access to education is key so that children, particularly those that are disadvantaged, can acquire essential social and emotional skills. It stresses that early education must be of high quality to mitigate the effect of disadvantage.

It also recommends countries target additional resources towards disadvantaged students and schools, as well as reduce the concentration of disadvantaged students in disadvantaged schools.


Launching the report in London at an event hosted by the Education Policy Institute, Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said, ‘Too little headway has been made to break down the barriers to social mobility and give all children an equal chance to succeed.

‘More investment is needed to help disadvantaged students do better, including recognition of the critical role that teachers have to play.’

Commenting on the findings of the report, Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and training at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘The findings from the OECD PISA report make it clear that the right investment in early years is critical in making sure inequalities don’t impact on later life opportunities. This report clearly backs up an abundance of research that tells us that disadvantaged students need good early years education to stand a chance of improving their social mobility. Government underfunding of early education entitlement is fighting against their ambition on social mobility and this report is more evidence of that. 

‘However, how can we improve with the downward pressure that inadequate funding is causing?  As the report highlights, nurseries need to be able to attract high quality, highly qualified educators to address the shocking gap of almost three year’s schooling between the advantaged and disadvantaged. But they need the right government investment to do this. 

‘Nurseries get it right when it comes to supporting children from disadvantaged areas, providing best quality care and access to children of all different backgrounds.  This needs to happen right up the school system to ensure equality of education. We want every child to have mental health/emotional resilience and the possibility of improved later life chances.’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said, 'This is a shocking indictment of eight years of Conservative-led education policies.

'The report makes clear that a child’s socio-economic background continues to exert the greatest influence on student achievement, particularly in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

'It highlights the extent to which high-quality early years education has a crucial positive influence on mitigating the effect of disadvantage. Yet 1,000 Sure Start Centres have closed in England since 2010 and the Government’s much trumpeted 30 hours of free childcare offer has flopped, with providers unable to provide the places at the rates the Government has made available.

'This report should act as a wake-up call to the Government. Its so-called school ‘reforms’ since 2010 have not only failed to achieve their stated aim of raising education quality, they have significantly widened inequality and entrenched disadvantage throughout a child’s schooling and into adulthood.'

A DfE spokesperson said, 'We want every child to grow up healthy, happy and able to reach their potential, no matter what their background.

'The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, as measured by the attainment gap index, has narrowed by at least 10% since 2011, and we’re targeting extra support at the poorest areas of the country to raise standards in schools and attract great teachers. Earlier this year the Education Secretary also set out his plans to boost social mobility by improving education support for children before they start school.

'Through green paper proposals, we will provide significant additional resources for all schools to help identify mental health problems early and make sure young people have the right support when they need it. Alongside this we have committed to ensuring all children learn about mental wellbeing through the introduction of Health Education, which we intend to make compulsory in all schools.'

  • The OECD Pisa report is here
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