It is good, as you say, that there is now a political consensus building around the need to offer some childcare from the age of two (Leader, 17 February). However, if this new early learning provision is to be “what is best for children themselves”, it is essential that qualified staff are in place or the evidence shows that these new places will do little to improve social mobility. Our recent Sound Foundations research report for the Sutton Trust found that much current provision for two-year-olds is not yet fit for purpose. Offering less than high-quality places to young children whose parents are not in work addresses neither the child development nor child poverty aims. We have therefore recommended the government delay its planned expansion of free places for two-year-olds and focus on improving the quality of provision for the 20% of two-year-olds already entitled to free places. Investing in relevant qualifications and training for childcare workers is central to ensuring the best outcomes for all children. In the longer term, we will never achieve the quality of care necessary for our younger children without addressing issues of pay and conditions as well as qualifications.
Naomi Eisenstadt, Professor Kathy Sylva, Sandra Mathers Department of Education, University of Oxford
• You sadly note that plans for childcare for pre-schoolers is about “labour market economics” and not “what is best for the children”. What a shameful society we are becoming. For at least the first three years of life, children need regular contact with an adult, obviously best if mother, father or grandparent, who constantly talks with them, plays with them, gives them love and attention. In many homes this is the case, but others are financially and culturally impoverished and in consequence neglect to give their children the early intellectual and emotional stimulus that later in life makes the difference between high achievers and the rest. These are often the children who will struggle with literacy and numeracy at school, and by 16 fail to achieve the five good GCSEs that government is so beholden to. It should be obvious that while a state pension for the elderly is right, likewise there should be state “pension” to protect the very young, so that family care can be universal.
But beyond that culturally impoverished families need support. I would like to see primary education redefined as from age 0 to 11 with schools employing community teachers working in conjunction with Sure Start centres and focusing on the stimulus that adults can give their new-born children – talking, playing, teaching them songs, reading aloud to them. In the long run it would be a much better investment by the state than expecting both parents to work to earn sufficient to pay for child minders. Education is more important than economics!
Professor Michael Bassey
• Of maintained nursery schools, 91% were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2012/13, and should be seen as a central part of the solution to high-quality childcare provision, yet they are under threat. As local authorities put their children’s services out to tender and their maintained primary and infant schools become academies, maintained nursery schools have nowhere to go. Current legislation does not provide for the conversion of maintained nursery schools into academies. This causes a fundamental structural problem for a children’s centre which is integrated with a maintained nursery school.
If legislation was adapted to provide for “nursery academies”, economies of scale and reach could also be exploited by the creation of “multi academy nursery trusts”. The particular expertise of the maintained nursery school is distinct from that of the primary school with a nursery class, and offers a crucial resource in supporting disadvantaged children. Such schools should be permitted to take their place amongst the current array of providers and not disappear because of lack of available succession routes such as academisation.
Partner, Bates Wells Braithwaite
• When government pressure bites, the temptation to take the biggest financial chunk out of early years services seems impossible to resist. When even Labour-led local authorities, once the proud instigators of Sure Start, follow central guidance and leave the provision of early years education and childcare to “market forces”, they can hardly be surprised when the places aren’t there. The poorer the area, the less available the childcare: it won’t make a profit and private childcare providers won’t entertain it.
Source Article from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/20/early-childcare-top-quality
Early childcare must be top-quality | @guardianletters
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