The Sutton Trust is calling for an extension of the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare to disadvantaged parents.
The 30 hours ‘free’ childcare for working families of three and four year olds should be extended to disadvantaged parents, according to a new project launched by the Sutton Trust.
The project, called A Fair Start?, will investigate the feasibility and potential impact of extending eligibility for the 30 hours funded early education entitlement for children aged three and four. Currently only parents who work [in couples, both parents must work] and fit the earnings criteria can use the entitlement. Parents must earn at least the National Minimum Wage or Living Wage for 16 hours a week on average. Other parents get 15 hours ‘free’ childcare.
The Sutton Trust, which say early years should be at the heart of education recovery, says the pandemic has widened inequalities between children, from early years onwards, and childcare providers say that childcare closures have particularly affected those in disadvantaged areas.
It wants to see eligibility for funded early education for three and four year olds increased beyond 15 hours, with a focus on those from less well-off homes. Childcare providers are supportive of calls for more priority being given to early years and want to see a review of the 30 hours initiative. Many are struggling or have closed due to financial challenges which are in part related to underfunding of the ‘free’ childcare places.
It is also calling for an extended schools programme, designed to attract the most disadvantaged and focused on essential life skills and wellbeing, as well as academic catch-up; an ongoing entitlement to access to digital learning, including flexible use of school laptops or tablets, and data allowances/wireless dongles where necessary and incentives for teachers working in challenging schools in deprived areas.
The launch of the project comes as the Sutton Trust’s research shows the majority of parents of pre-school children (56%) are worried about the impact on their child’s overall development or wellbeing during the pandemic, with children’s social and emotional development being the biggest priority.
Over half (51%) of parents feel that the government has not done enough to support the development of all pre-school age children during the pandemic.
The Trust is working with The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust to look in depth at how government policy can promote development in the early years. Specifically, the project will be looking at how to prioritise high quality early education and reduce the early years attainment gap before it takes hold.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “No one doubts that the impact of the pandemic on children’s and young people’s life chances is going to have repercussions for many years – even decades – to come. Our own research has highlighted the disproportionate impact of school closures on poorer students, who have struggled most with home schooling.
“The recovery plan must be ambitious and long-term. Crucially, funding and efforts need to be focused on the most disadvantaged. But as today’s polling shows, we cannot forget the youngest children. It is more important than ever that there is greater access to high quality early education for younger children from poorer homes whose development is at risk of suffering the most.”