Families with young children have been hit harder than any other household type under the Coalition’s austerity measures despite political rhetoric highlighting the importance of the “foundation years” (1). Real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13 and tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type.
The evidence shows that children who benefit most from high quality early years provision are those whose families are struggling in the most challenging economic circumstances but the substantial economic and social benefits of good early education are demonstrable for all society (2). Recently political debate has focused almost exclusively on the accessibility and affordability of “childcare” for working parents. Whilst Early Education recognises the need for this crucial childcare element to help alleviate parental unemployment and child poverty, children who are in need of an equitable start towards social mobility, deserve more than good “care”. They need high quality, professionalised early educators.
As Mary Eming Young (3) at the World Bank suggests, this type of graduate led profession costs more but not too much more; perhaps 10-15% on a setting’s existing budget. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winner, says it is not a cost but the best investment society can make. The international evidence also implies quality early years’ provision cannot be delivered without some level of state support. A recent Economist article on “Womenomics” (4) suggested that in the last 15 years the contribution of women entering the workforce to growth in the global economy has been greater than that of China. Yet state support for the family and young children has lagged behind this significant contribution to the economy.
Early Education’s prime focus is on the quality of provision for young children’s learning and development. It is this that makes the difference in the long term. This is not about “schoolification” of the early years, and a curriculum of “too much, too soon”; nor is it about the school starting age or needlessly polarised debates about “formal” and “informal” learning; but about providing a suitably trained workforce capable of sensitively stimulating, challenging and extending these young children’s capabilities in an atmosphere which is caring, responsive and attentive to their wellbeing. Ofsted tells us that the quality of an early years’ setting correlates substantially with the qualification level of its staff.
It behoves a rich society to ensure that settings are of high quality so that families can be confident that their children are well cared for and have many opportunities for play and learning. This is secured by ensuring that the Early Years workforce is fully and appropriately trained, and characterised by competent, confident, knowledgeable, career-orientated professionals who understand the importance of high quality care in parallel with high quality learning experiences.
Signed by Early Education’s President and Vice-Presidents:
Professor Tony Bertram, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (President)
Professor Robin Alexander, University of Cambridge
Professor Tina Bruce CBE, Trustee Froebel Foundation
Marion Dowling, Retired Her Majesty's Inspector
Bernadette Duffy OBE, Head of Thomas Coram Centre for Children and Families
Emeritus Professor Aline-Wendy Dunlop MBE, University of Strathclyde
Dr Peter Elfer, Roehampton University
Naomi Eisenstadt CB, University of Oxford
Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage, formerly University of Nottingham
Laura Henry, Independent Early Years Consultant
Helen Moylett, Independent Early Years Consultant
Professor Christine Pascal OBE, President European Early Childhood Education Research Association, Centre for Research in Early Childhood
Professor Iram Siraj OBE, UCL Institute of Education
Professor Kathy Sylva, OBE, University of Oxford
Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, University of Edinburgh
Professor Cathy Nutbrown, University of Sheffield
Lesley Staggs, Retired National Strategies Director of Early Years
Professor Elizabeth Wood, University of Sheffield
Dr Margy Whalley, MBE, Pen Green Centre for Children and Families and Pen Green Research Base
Liz Bayram, Chief Executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Lynn Hannay, Chair, National Association for Primary Education (NAPE)
John Coe, Information Officer, National Association for Primary Education (NAPE)
Dr Jane Payler, Chair, TACTYC; University of Winchester
Wendy Ellyatt, Save Childhood Movement
Wendy Scott OBE, President, TACTYC
Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL
Dr David Whitebread, Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDaL) University of Cambridge Faculty of Education
Dr Leena Robertson, Middlesex University
Theresa Lane, Headteacher and Rachel Hogarth-Smith, Deputy Headteacher, Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Children's Centre
Penny Webb, Penny's Place
Julie Cigman, Early Years consultant and writer
Anne Mortimore, Bristol City Council
John Wadsworth, Senior Lecturer (Early Childhood Education), Goldsmiths – University of London
Viki Bennett, Bath Spa University and Bristol City Council
Isobel MacDougall, EY Consultant
Dr Julian Grenier, Headteacher, Sheringham Nursery School and Children's Centre
Alison Moore, St Paul's Community Development Trust
Anne Gladstone, Early Years Trainer & Consultant
Kate Hulm, Early Years Lecturer, City of Bristol College
Katherine Goodsir, Bath Spa University
Ali Carrington, Early years lead at Ashley Down Schools Federation and CLL SLE Bristol City Council
Agnes Javor, NCDUK
Marcia Myers, Birmingham City Council
Laura Brodie, Allens Croft Nursery School and Children's Centre
Sandra Mathers, University of Oxford
Karen Boardman, Head of Early Years, Edge Hill University
To add your name to this statement, please email us or show your support by tweeting a link and using the hashtag #QualityEarlyEd1st
1. Stewart, K., & Obolenskaya, P. (2015). The Coalition’s Record on the Under Fives: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. Social Policy in a Cold Climate Working Paper WP12. London: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
2. Heckman, J.(nd) Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy.
3. Young, M. E., & Mundial, B. (1996). Early child development: investing in the future. Washington, DC: World Bank.
4. The Economist (2006). A guide to womenomics. April 12 2006.