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Education watchdog Ofsted has called for funding for early years provision to be targeted in future at the most deprived areas in the country.
Sue Gregory, national director of education for Ofsted was speaking at its first early years annual lecture.
She said: “Universal provision has spread resources very thinly and it’s crucial that lessons are learnt from current schemes in operation. Schools receive additional funding for their most disadvantaged pupils through the Pupil Premium. A similar scheme could work in early years to help ensure that high quality staff are employed where the two year old offer is most needed.”
Ms Gregory believes this would help to close the gap in attainment between young children from the most advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds.
She also called for urgent changes to ensure people working in early years are at least as qualified as teachers in schools and that the best trained professionals are paid more to work in the most deprived areas.
However Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4Children criticised the proposal and said: “We cannot rely on middle income families to plug funding gaps and must instead look to those budgets such as police and health which will reap the long term rewards if we get our approach to the early years right now. It’s high time we started to match the investment we make in the early years with the ambitions we all have for our children and society - but not from the pockets of other hard working families.”
But she added: “Sue Gregory is absolutely right in calling for more investment in the early years for disadvantaged families. These crucial years offer the strongest window of opportunity to radically improve a child’s life chances. That's why it’s so important to ensure that all children get the best start and recognise that we all benefit from the huge savings that it will bring.
“As the recent Early Years Foundation Stage profile results clearly show, recent investment in the early years is succeeding in closing the attainment gap but this success is heavily reliant on bringing children from a range of backgrounds together under the same roof.”
Ofsted recently published its Early Years report from the findings of nearly 17,000 early years inspections carried out during 2011/12. This revealed:
• Seventy four per cent of provision is good or better compared with 65 per cent three years ago.
• More than a third (34 per cent) of children are not working securely in communication, language and literacy by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (below five years old). This number rises to more than four in ten (41 per cent) in deprived areas.
• Overall, pre-schools and nurseries are better than childminders at preparing children for the next stage.
• Provision is weakest in areas of highest deprivation, particularly in the case of childminders.
• The quality of early years provision would benefit from stronger links between strong and weak providers, including good schools and good children’s centres.