To the Point - Squashing them in

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Policymakers may need reminding that actions speak louder than words. The focus of the foundation years is on child development, proclaimed the Government in its document, 'Supporting Families in the Foundation Years'.

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The free entitlement, it said, is aimed primarily at learning and development, and helping parents with childcare and working patterns is not the principal purpose.

It is difficult to see this commitment to children's development in recent policy decisions. Instead of spreading the free entitlement across at least three days, a young child may now be cramming 15 hours into two days in a bid to give more flexibility to suit parents' working patterns. With attendance patterns of two days separated by long gaps, a child will miss out on the continuity of relationships that help to build attachment, emotional well-being and peer relationships, as well as the chance to build on activities and develop trains of ideas.

Now we hear the Childcare Commission is considering changes to floor space ratios.

After all, more two-year-olds could be squashed into existing settings without capital expense if the rules were changed. So we would have more childcare places, but at a cost to child development.

Children need large amounts of space to be physically active in order to learn and develop. They also need to avoid the stress that cramped spaces cause. The current rules are arbitrary, and the space requirements do need a rethink. Research shows that the current space requirements (2.3-3.4m2) are far too small, with a minimum of 5m2 of play space needed to cut harmful cortisol levels which interfere with brain development, health and learning. There is also evidence of increased conflict between children where space is less than this.

Early years provision does include both education and care - as does primary school. But do we hear suggestions for Year 2 children to attend a combination of different schools for long hours on just a few days each week? Why should our youngest and most vulnerable children bear the brunt of the social and economic costs of childcare?

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