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Childcare minister says nurseries 'must do more' to make children school-ready

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Childcare and Education Minister Sam Gyimah, has said “more must be done” by nurseries to make sure children make good progress, after new figures showed too few children are ready for school.

Sam Gyimah, Childcare and Education Minister

The statistics show 60 per cent of children aged five are making good progress against the early years foundation stage profile (EYFSP). However, the gap between those from the most disadvantaged areas and their peers has remained the same at 12 per cent.

The EYFSP, which is designed to ensure that all children are prepared and ready for school, measures things like how children play together through to being able to count to 10 and write their own name.

Mr Gyimah said: “We know the first few years of a child’s life can be make or break in terms of how well they go on to do at school and beyond. The statistics published clearly show that some progress is being made but more must be done to ensure children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are put on the right path.

“Parents need to be confident that while their children are out of their care they’re not only safe, happy and having fun but at the same time developing important skills like playing confidently with their friends, speaking, and understanding words, letters and numbers.”

He added: “The Government has provided new funding through the early years pupil premium and strengthened qualifications to raise standards. It’s now up to those who support our children to ensure they get the start in life they deserve - something parents and I both want to see.”

The EYFSP statistics show that 53 per cent of children in the most deprived areas achieved a good level of development compared with 65 per cent of their peers. A total of 66 per cent of children achieved at least the expected level of development in literacy and 72 per cent in mathematics. They also revealed that girls continue to outperform boys with 69 per cent of girls achieving a good level of development compared with 52 per cent of boys - particularly in writing.

‘Extremely disappointed’ in minister

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, hit back at Mr Gyimah’s criticism of nurseries saying: “We are extremely disappointed that the minister has used these results, which show a marked improvement in outcomes across all areas of development, to direct unfair criticism at the early years sector.

“It is true that there is more work to be done to ensure that all children, and particularly those from disadvantaged background, are given the best start in life. However, the Government needs to acknowledge the role that it itself must play in supporting these improvements.

“Childcare professionals continue to do remarkable work in the face of inadequate funding and extremely limited practical support.” He added that “recent sector initiatives rolled-out by the Department for Education – such as the early years pupil premium – while positive in theory, will do little to address these challenges in practice, largely because the Government refuses to acknowledge the severity of the current problem”.

More Government funding needed

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association also wants to see more help from the Government in terms of funding. She defended nurseries saying: “Early years is a stand out sector with 84 per cent of nurseries graded good or outstanding, compared to 78 per cent of primary schools. Private and voluntary nurseries provide a public service delivering 96 per cent of two-year-old funded places, 60 per cent of three-year-old places and 18 per cent of four-year-old funded places.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA

“However, as the funding from central Government is not ring fenced the majority of providers are being paid less than the cost of the place by their local authority – an average shortfall of £900 per child per year for a three-year-old. This is an issue which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

She added: “We appreciate the Government has looked at ways to help support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) will be a step in the right direction when it comes in next year. But this again falls short at £300 per child per year, far less than the EYPP in schools. We would urge the Government to show its commitment to supporting nurseries working with disadvantaged children by levelling the playing field with schools and putting the EYPP on an equal footing.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) claimed childcare professionals share Mr Gyimah’s goal that “more needs to be done to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged children” and said: “We are looking forward to working with the Department for Education and other sector organisations to ensure all providers are supported to further improve.”

Sharing of best practice needed

Nicola Amies, director of Early Years at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, would like to see more “collective sharing of wise practice across the sector”.

She said: “All providers want the best for the children in their care. We understand the value of continuous quality improvement with strong, inspirational leadership that embeds a culture of critical reflection and ongoing professional development for staff, and that sets high expectations for children’s experiences and progress.

“Collaborative working across the sector can make a significant impact on the journey we are all on to give young children the best foundations for success in life.”

Recent research from the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary (EPPSE) study, showed the benefit of high-quality early education, revealing that children who go to pre-school are projected to earn £27,000 more during their career than those who don’t. They are also more likely to get better GCSE results - the equivalent of getting 7 Bs compared to 7 Cs.

The Early years foundation stage profile results: 2013 to 2014 can be found here:


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Maria Conroy Byrne

Maria Conroy Byrne

16 Oct 2014 1:33 PM

Maybe they're measuring the wrong things and should be looking towards the Finnish model where formal education doesn't begin until children are much older. Trying to fit all children into little boxes of achievement just doesn't work. Neither does a one-size-fits all approach where, if the child can't 'perform' to set standards, he or she is viewed as a failure. At a young age, the best way of learning is through play. Early education should be fostering a love of learning, not laying out hoops that every child should jump through. There also needs to be realistic expectations about just how much pre-school education can hope the achieve when it's not backed up with home supports and education for disadvantaged families. The majority of early learning takes place in the home environment, but this is largely ignored and when the results aren't what is hoped for, the early years sector gets the blame.