Labour spells out childcare plans

Labour leader Keir Starmer has spelt out the party’s mission for early years in a speech today which focused on improving the quality and standing of the sector.

evidence about childcare

Teacher and adorable children being creative with colorful pencils at kindergarten

Labour has pledged to work with the early years and childcare sector to build capacity, initially by removing legislative barriers to local authorities opening new childcare provision.

It says the Conservatives have promised more childcare places for parents, but have failed to deliver on the supply side, with concerns about nursery closures mounting, in large part because government subsidies don’t cover the full cost of places.

Labour has also promised to address the workforce crisis in the childcare sector, an area it says the Conservatives have neglected. Its “five missions for a better Britain”, published today to coincide with a speech today by Labour leader Keir Starmer on the fifth mission – education, says Labour will work with the early years and childcare sector to ensure professionals are provided with opportunities for high quality training and recognised for the skilled work they are doing. Earlier this week shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said that Labour planned to get more graduates into nurseries in England to boost the standing of early years education and bring it in line with that of schools. Labour has a big focus on improving the quality of early years, including a goal of getting half a million more children hitting the early learning goals by 2030.

Labour’s plan calls for “fresh and imaginative thinking about how we integrate early years education and childcare with the wider school experience our children have and how we set them all up for the best start to life”.

The five missions report says: “The Conservatives have failed to deliver for families and for children. New parents are too often unable to see their health visitors or get the early help and advice that would enable them to thrive as a family. The hours model for funding childcare has failed families, with providers forced to raise prices for hours that fall outside of a family’s entitlement, making childcare a huge cost to bear, yet some providers are still being left with no choice but to close. There are two children for every Ofsted-registered early years childcare place across England, and up to 11 children per place in some areas. These costs create barriers for parents wanting to work more hours or take on new jobs, disproportionately hitting women’s employment and opportunities.”

It adds that childcare should be treated as education that “sets children up for school and for life, particularly affecting children from lower-income backgrounds”.

It states: “For Labour, childcare must be more than just a facility that allows parents to work more hours. It is about providing every child with the best start in life; an early years education which sets them up for school and supports child development. Extensive evidence shows the positive impact of high-quality early education on long-term educational, behavioural and social outcomes, and on closing the gap for children in low-income households.⁹

In the section on schools, Labour outlines its previously announced plans for breakfast clubs in every primary school.

It says: “Evidence shows breakfast clubs improve children’s learning and development, boosting performance in maths and reading, alongside improving behaviour and attendance. Funded breakfast clubs provide opportunities for children to play, learn and socialise at the start of the school day.”

Starmer, who spoke about the role of education in breaking through ‘the class ceiling’, was asked about the teacher strikes this week and said Labour would negotiate every day with the unions to end the strikes.

Pay parity with teachers

Responding to the speech, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed the focus on valuing and recognising the early years sector “as a crucial part of the education system” and  on the workforce and the importance of providing high-quality education.  However, he added that it was vital that Labour’s plans to boost quality are properly funded. There have, for instance, been concerns about the cost of bringing in graduates at a time when the sector is struggling with funding. Leitch said: “We hope that today’s proposals are a starting point for Labour’s plans for the early years, and that the party strives to actively engage with the sector to ensure any potential policies eases pressure on providers, rather than simply piling more on.”

Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association, said she needed to see more details in terms of Labour’s plans for early education. She added: “If Labour is serious about wanting to incorporate early years within mainstream education, we will need to see an equity in funding and costs for early years providers. Funding for three and four year olds lags way behind the actual costs of delivering high quality early education and is the main reason 50% more nurseries are having to close their doors forever. They must be supported to remain sustainable and continue the wonderful work they do every day.

“Early years practitioners and teachers must be treated the same as school teachers with the £2,400 retention fee and the same pay scales. The current and future governments must give immediate attention to addressing the alarming recruitment crisis in early years. Without qualified practitioners and teachers, there won’t be enough places for all children to benefit from early learning and care which gives them the best life chances.”

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