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Nurseries and pre-schools caring for children from the most deprived background are of a lower quality than nurseries caring for children in more advantaged areas, according to a report published by the Nuffield Foundation.
The Nuffield Foundation report has suggested the number of graduates working within settings could be one reason behind the varying levels of quality care. The ‘quality gap’ was found to be much smaller between nurseries which had a graduate employee compared to nurseries operating without any graduates.
It found the largest gap in quality between nurseries for the least and most disadvantaged children was in the support they received for language skills in childcare settings with a difference in quality of 10 per cent.
Lead author of the report, Sandra Mathers said: “This research highlights the challenges involved in ensuring that the children most in need of good quality early years provision actually receives it. It is vital that we equip nurseries and preschools with the tools and support they need to help disadvantaged children overcome the odds and reach their full potential.”
Researchers have suggested nurseries due to start receiving the new Early Years pupil premium should use the extra funding, given for disadvantaged three and four year olds on their register, to employ a graduate level member of staff.
Teresa Williams, director of social research and policy at the Nuffield Foundation said: “These findings show that socioeconomic disadvantage is mirrored in the quality of early years provision, meaning children from poorer backgrounds lose out again. We would like to see more work done on the link between quality and graduate qualifications, specifically how we can best upskill the early years workforce and ensure that more highly qualified staff are appropriately deployed.”
Research undertaken by the University of Oxford measured the Ofsted grades and research-validated Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ECERS) to analyse the quality of 1,079 private, voluntary and non-profit nurseries and 169 state-maintained nursery and primary schools in England.
Although the tendency for disadvantaged areas to receive lower quality care was found to apply to private, voluntary and non-profit nurseries, this was not found to be the case for state maintained schools. In some cases the quality of provision for three and four year olds was even higher in schools in the most deprived areas.
Reacting to the report, Liz Bayram, PACEY chief executive, said: “High quality childcare is one of the most effective ways of helping children in disadvantage and ensuring that we have a highly skilled early years workforce is crucial to delivering this. PACEY would like to see increased support for private and voluntary providers. This is vital to help give parents a flexible choice around high quality childcare, and in turn will help to raise standards and reduce inequality.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children said: “4Children championed the introduction of a pupil premium for the early years as a way of achieving this and preparing the most disadvantaged children for school. Investing in additional staff, as the report recommends, is one way in which settings might improve outcomes.
“The next step will be making the case for increased investment in the premium so that it mirrors the funding allocated to older children, when the consequences of disadvantage have already taken hold.”
Chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Neil Leitch, welcomed the report but said the government should provide more help to private, voluntary and independent nurseries by tackling the current funding imbalance within the sector.
He said: “The PVI sector is wholly supportive of plans to increase the number of graduates in the sector, but ongoing funding shortfalls mean that most providers simply cannot afford to pay graduate-level salaries. The reality is that supporting disadvantaged children requires significant funding, something that this government has so far failed to provide.
“PVI settings provide a nurturing, caring and age-appropriate environment for young children, and supply the vast majority of childcare places in this country, and yet the government continues to focus almost exclusively on school-based provision.
“The solution to the issues raised in this report isn’t to dismiss the huge existing network of PVI providers and push young children into schools because it’s the cheaper option, but rather, to tackle the current funding imbalance in the sector and ensure that PVI settings are properly supported in providing high quality care and education to the children who need it the most.”