04 Feb 2019, Catherine Gaunt
The early years education sector in the UK is thriving. With world-renowned nurseries, it is held in very high regard, with excellent standards and a rigorous Ofsted system.
As reported by Nursery World in 2018, foreign investment into the sector is rocketing, with investors from across the globe looking to the UK not only for its investment potential, but to take inspiration from our education system. This is something early years providers should be incredibly proud of – it highlights the strength of our offer.
Just last year, Chinese education investment company JiaYi Education purchased the Bambinos nursery group in Plymouth, in a multi-million-pound deal.
The nursery chain, which was founded in 1994, was looking for investment into its four high-quality nurseries to further develop its curriculum, recruit more people and potentially operate more centres. As a result, Bambinos is expected to open more outlets around the UK – and in China – helping the business to realise its potential.
My passion for the UK education sector is long-standing. As chairman of the Education Select Committee, I spent several years examining education policy in detail. Now as the Minister for Investment, my role is to encourage and support investment into all sectors of economy – and I am clear that I see an enormous opportunity for early years education.
Why investment is great
International investment has an overwhelmingly positive impact on local communities, creating jobs and encouraging economic growth. It can transform areas, as seen with the example of St Bees School in Cumbria which, for instance, helped to safeguard jobs in the area.
Foreign investment in St Bees saved the school, protected jobs and made a major contribution to the local area’s economy.
Founded in 1583, the school had always played an important part in local village life. However, due to financial difficulties, it had to shut its doors in 2015, despite concerted efforts to save it.
Fast-forward a year, and the school took the decision to engage with various global investors in the hope of reopening the school. Introduced to Shenzhen-based Full Circle Education Group, St Bees School made the decision to work with the business, with the partnership formalised in December 2017.
This brought in much-needed financial support for the school, as well as an innovative education model, resulting in an overwhelmingly positive Ofsted report.
The export opportunity
On the flipside, we are seeing increasing levels of demand overseas for UK early years education, including in mainland China and Hong Kong, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and ASEAN.
Kangaroo Pouch Day Nursery is one UK early years provider which has found high levels of success internationally. As the largest nursery chain in the West Midlands, Kangaroo Pouch recently secured a contract in China with support from the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Black Country Chamber of Commerce. Signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Jiangsu Junyi Education Group to open British-style nurseries in Nanjing, the first nursery is set to open by the end of the year, a second site is already secured, and the business is aiming to open 15 centres in Jiangsu Province over the next three years.
The contract came following the company’s attendance on a DIT early years education trade mission to China and Hong Kong last year. Part of the UK Government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign, the mission provided networking opportunities with potential partners, and is expected to lead to further work for Kangaroo Pouch across other regions of China.
As well as trade missions and organising inward delegations, DIT offers a wide range of support for investors and exporters alike. With staff in 108 countries, we have a strong network of colleagues overseas in local markets who work closely with overseas governments, investors and partners.
We know the demand is there, and I want to see even more UK early years education providers sharing their expertise globally.