Education Secretary questioned in Parliament over our 30 hours investigation

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A leading MP has called for the Government to better evaluate the impact of its policies after our investigation found that the 30 hours offer is penalising disadvantaged children.

mind-the-gap

Findings from our FOI investigation show that thousands of pre-existing discretionary early education places for disadvantaged pre-school children have been cut by councils due to funding rules associated with 30 hours.

Labour MP Lucy Powell, who sits on the Education Committee and has been shadow Education Secretary, raised Nursery World’s findings with the Education Secretary yesterday in Parliament.

She said, ‘Given the Government’s apparent commitment to social mobility, would it not be a good idea to introduce a social mobility impact assessment for all Government policies and budget plans?

'That way, we might avoid stories such as the one that appears today in Nursery World, which details how across the country 27 schemes targeted at the most disadvantaged children in the early years have had to be scrapped because of changes to the early years funding formula.’

Damian Hinds responded, saying ‘I apply social mobility considerations right across the work of the Department for Education, and I also work with Ministers across Government to make sure that we are doing the same in all that we do.’

But experts argue that pledges such as the Government’s plans to spend £50m on creating quality school-based nursery provision for disadvantaged children have been undermined by the news and accused the Government of ‘shuffling money around’.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said our investigation had ‘only further proven that the Government are not investing enough in early years, they are simply shuffling money around rather than properly funding the system that they designed.’

Ms Tanuku added that the findings were ‘shocking’. ‘It shows there is a clear impact of underfunding the 30 hours "free" childcare policy, not just on providers but on local authorities and families too. 

‘The funding model just isn’t working as shown by the 27 schemes that have been or are being cut.

‘It is shocking that the most disadvantaged areas underlined in this research are the ones who are hardest hit.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘At a time when the Government continues to stress the importance of social mobility and improving children's life chances, the fact that their flagship childcare policy is having the opposite effect in so many areas of the country is nothing less than shameful.

‘This is a direct consequence of policy-making driven by politics rather than evidence. Instead of a cohesive and comprehensive approach to early years policy focused on supporting children's early learning and development, we have a series of inconsistent and patchy pledges and schemes based on often contradictory aims, and introduced with little to no thought about what the long-term consequences might be and whether or not they might undermine each other, as is the case here.’ 

Both the Alliance and the NDNA reiterated their pleas for increased 30 hour funding along with PACEY, who said the findings should lead to a Government investigation.

Susanna Kalitowski, PACEY policy and research manager, linked our research with the Government’s funded childcare policy for disadvantaged two-year-olds, which is delivered by just 21 per cent of childminders.

Yet, she said, ‘There is growing evidence that childminding provision is particularly beneficial for disadvantaged children and families. A number of studies have found that childminders provide a crucial form of family support, particularly in disadvantaged communities.’

The Department for Education has responded to Nursery World’s findings, saying ‘Thousands of families have benefited from this Government’s high quality early education programmes – every three- and four-year-old is entitled to 15 hours of free childcare, and that doubles for children of working parents. Alongside this we are providing additional support at an earlier stage for the most disadvantaged families - almost 750,000 two-year-olds have benefited from 15 hours of free childcare through the programme helping them develop social skills and preparing them for school. 

‘Through our Early Years National Funding Formula we have increased the total national average hourly funding rate to local authorities for three- and four-year-olds increased from £4.56 to nearly £5.00 and increased funding for every local authority to provide support for two-year-olds.’

 

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