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Brexit: How it will impact on children in the early years

Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

The UK was left divided on 23 June, when 52 per cent of the country voted for the UK to leave the European Union and 48 per cent chose to stay. After that, the pound went into freefall, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was stepping down leaving fellow Tory MPs to fight it amongst themselves for the top job and the Labour Party imploded with MPs agreeing a vote of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Nursery leaders have been talking to voicing their concerns over how this time of uncertainty will impact on children, families and the early years sector.


Racism has reared its ugly head, both during the EU Referendum and also in its aftermath, with school children being openly racist and ‘No More Polish Vermin’ flyers distributed outside primary schools in Cambridgeshire.

Pre-school children have not been immune to this with a man shouting at a child outside a nursery in Sunderland that the ‘banana boat is coming to take you away’. Suddenly it has become okay to say all those things that used to be condemned and kept hidden.

Nurseries have an important part to play in combating this hostility and hate, according to Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, who said: “Given the numerous reports of an increase in the number of racist and xenophobic incidents suspected to be linked to the referendum result, now is a good opportunity for us all to reflect on the importance of respect, equality and diversity, and to recognise the value of the continued steps that practitioners have taken - and continue to take - to embed these principles into their everyday practice.”

David Wright, owner of Paint Pots Nurseries in Southampton, echoed this also emphasizing the crucial role of nurseries, saying: “It is vital that we continue to focus on providing the security, love and encouragement and to foster the curiosity, imagination and appetite for learning that will prepare our children to make their way in an uncertain world. They are the ones who will inherit the results of our decision as a nation, for better or worse.”

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) voiced concerns over “the legacy of the debate over the EU Referendum” and how Britain can heal community divisions and repair the damage done by scapegoating”.

The divisions that have opened up in communities during the referendum were also highlighted by Maureen Lee, director of Early Years Best Practice Network, who said: “Since the referendum outcome, we are sadly becoming increasingly aware of divisive barriers to community cohesion.” She also urged the early years sector to be proactive in healing divisions saying: “The early years sector has more scope and power to influence society than those not involved realise. It is a reason to be hopeful in such worrying times.”

She believes that through daily conversations, early years practitioners have a unique opportunity to both pick up on emerging tensions and to foster friendships between parents and families.

Zoe Raven, chief executive of Acorn Childcare, called the rise in racist incidents and intolerance that appears to have been unleashed “horrifying” and said: “I think, this is where the early years sector may need to step up a gear, challenge anything that happens within or around its settings, and do our best to ensure that the next generation grows up with respect and kindness as core values”.


Voting to leave the EU has already seen the economy take a tumble with the UK’s credit rating downgraded and the pound dropping in value. This will all lead to uncertainty for parents in terms of employment and work, according to LEYF’s Ms O’Sullivan, particularly “if recession hits or if you are working for a company owned by a European firm or focussed on providing services or goods to Europe”. She is worried that this will have knock on effect on nurseries with less of a demand for childcare and “parents more price sensitive especially in London”.

Sarah Steel, managing director of The Old Station Nursery Ltd, points out that Childcare businesses “do not operate in a vacuum, so any uncertainty in the markets is not good news for us as a sector, especially if we see any job losses for working parents as a result of economic changes”.

Her view is reiterated by Ms Raven of Acorn Childcare, who said: “The economic downturn which is already underway will affect parents’ affordability, as will inflation, as increased prices will put further pressure on fees and salaries”.

Recruitment of staff

The effects of withdrawing from the EU are still up for discussion but one of the key features of the Vote Leave campaign was immigration and an end to free movement of people from the rest of Europe into the UK.

Some nurseries are reliant on EU workers and are already in the middle of a recruitment crisis so the end to free movement could hit them hard.

Ms Steel of The Old Station Nursery chain employs some staff from European countries. She is concerned that “any increased bureaucracy regarding employment law will add to the red tape nurseries already have to cope with”.

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years), called it a “worrying time for the future of the UK, and the future of the early years” saying “there is a very real possibility that the end of freedom of movement of people across the EU will provide additional challenge to a sector already struggling to recruit staff to provide high quality childcare to children and families”.

Early years sector

The EU Referendum has led to economic instability and there are fears we could be heading for another recession. A poorer economy will affect public spending and there are concerns this could impact on the funding received by nurseries, many of which are already struggling financially as it is.

Mr Leitch of Pre-School Learning Alliance called for clarity from the Department for Education on issues affecting the early years and added: “It is as yet unclear what impact Brexit will have on the development of early years policy, and in particular the progress of the 30 hour offer.

Given reports that the Government’s much-promoted life chances strategy is being placed on hold, we would be very concerned about any further delays on the development of the scheme, and in particular, the promised national early years funding formula.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association said: “As the voice of nurseries, NDNA will continue to analyse the emerging political situation, respond to changes, and keep childcare providers informed and involved. In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we work together as an early years sector so we can continue to support children and families to flourish through excellent early learning and childcare.”

She also said she is determined that the Government will honour the pledges it has made on fairer funding, reforms to support our workforce, reduced red tape and better regulation.

PACEY’s Ms Bayram, called it a “real concern that politicians and policy makers will be pulled into other priorities” and said: “We call on Government to deliver on its promises for early years and to see immediate action on the much-anticipated workforce strategy, the early years funding formula consultation, and to continue the important work to deliver 30 hours of free early education to eligible families from next year. It is vital that the early years does not get neglected in the fallout from this historic decision, and that all our children, including the most disadvantaged, get the best start they deserve amidst this uncertain future.”


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