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Education secretary, Justine Greening, has vowed to tackle the gap in social mobility by announcing a £50m cash injection to create more places for ‘disadvantaged children’ at school nurseries.
The move to boost school nursery provision in some of the most challenging areas is part of a plan to boost social mobility through education.
At a social mobility conference, the education minister said she hoped to put social mobility “at the heart of all our education policy”, and added that “no one should be held back because of who they are or where they are born.”
'Education is the cornerstone of social mobility'
One of the four 'ambitions' of the plan ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’ is to 'Close the word gap in the early years' by boosting access to high quality early language and literacy for disadvantaged children.
The report states: 'Good early years education is the cornerstone of social mobility – and we are making record investment in this area. Children with strong foundations will start school in a position to progress, but too many children still fall behind early, and it is hard to close the gaps that emerge.
'We need to tackle these development gaps at the earliest opportunity, particularly focused on the key early language and literacy skills, so that all children can begin school ready to thrive.'
Why give '£50 million investment only to nursery schools?'
However some in the early years voiced their anger over the decision to prioritise school nurseries and exclude struggling private, voluntary and independent nurseries, many of whom have been rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) criticised what she saw as ‘yet another knee jerk reaction’ to recent social mobility reports by Government, which are ‘taking a piecemeal approach’ rather than investing in the whole of the early years sector. She said: “What is the basis for giving this £50 million investment only to nursery schools?
“Private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries care for 77 per cent of pre-school children in England and excellent work goes on there, developing children’s literacy and numeracy skills through play and offering flexibility for working parents. Many have graduate teachers. But they are being overlooked, while nursery schools are encouraged to create additional provision.
“In duplicating provision and not supporting the PVI sector adequately, the Government is threatening the sustainability of those businesses which are already struggling to deliver its current childcare offer to parents on stand-still rates.
“This sends out an unpleasant and unsupportive message to the PVI nursery sector.”
*'Early years investment' the best way 'to improve children's long-term life chances'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance also criticised an ‘inadequate’ approach to early years funding, and blamed the Government for the closure of children’s centres, saying: "Research has shown that investment into the early years is the most effective way to improve children's long-term life chances, and yet, for years now, the sector has been chronically underfunded.
"As a result, we've seen quality early years providers across the country being forced out of business, while many children's centres have been reduced to offering little more than a skeleton service if they haven't closed down altogether.
"A commitment to improving access to early language and literacy is, of course, welcome, but quality early years provision is so much more than this - and until the government is willing to fund the whole sector adequately, it's hard to see plans to improve social mobility being anything more than an aspiration.”
The DfE’s report comes not long after the Government’s social mobility commission quit en masse over what they saw as a lack of focus on inequality in the UK.