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Nursery sector has high hopes for social mobility with new Education Secretary

Article By: Sue Learner

The nursery sector hopes new Education Secretary Damian Hinds will champion early years policies which tackle disadvantage, due to his previous interest in the social mobility agenda.

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary. Credit: Conservative Party

Damian Hinds has taken over from Justine Greening who has held the post since July 2016. Ms Greening, who was offered the job of Work and Pensions Secretary but turned it down and resigned from the Cabinet, was the first state school educated Tory minister in charge of education.

Mr Hinds is MP for East Hampshire and was Employment Minister at the Department of Work and Pensions from July 2016 up till now.

The former grammar school pupil sat on the education select committee and chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. Parliament lists his political interests as education, welfare, affordable credit, and social mobility.

On Twitter, he said he was “delighted to be appointed Education Secretary – looking forward to working with the great teachers & lecturers in our schools, colleges & universities giving people the opportunities to make the most of their lives.”

Back in 2012, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility which Mr Hinds chaired, wrote a report on social mobility that concluded the biggest impact on social mobility was the quality of parenting, whether the home environment was educational and whether the parents had good mental health.

The report said: ‘A child’s development from zero to three is the point of greatest leverage for social mobility. It is acknowledged that this is difficult territory for policy makers as it relates to parenting as well as what happens in childcare and nursery settings.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) welcomed Damian Hinds to his new role at the Department for Education and said: “I have worked with him previously when he was in the Department for Work and Pensions, so look forward to working closely with him and his team.

“Given all the challenges facing nurseries who are trying to deliver the Government’s pledge of 30 funded hours on inadequate funding rates, early years must be given a high priority within his portfolio.”

She added: “The new Secretary of State is particularly interested in the social mobility agenda. We hope he will look at reducing the earnings threshold for eligibility for 30 hours, which would enable more money to be invested in the scheme. If providers received a fair hourly rate, they would not need to charge parents of younger children such high fees to make up the shortfall, which would make childcare more affordable for lower income families.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, also welcomed Mr Hinds to his new role and said: “Though the importance of a quality early years education is no longer a matter for debate, Mr Hinds takes over DfE at a time when underfunding is testing the sector’s sustainability while providers continue to voice concerns about the increased schoolification of early education. A change in leadership at the department represents an excellent opportunity to revisit these issues and we look forward to representing the sector as the new secretary of state seeks to address them.”

Damian Hinds has a "real opportunity to ensure high quality experiences for our pre-school children are enjoying today are not lost to future generation and through this, ensure disadvantaged children are supported to achieve their full potential," according to PACEY chief executive Liz Bayram.

She said: “Whilst the overwhelming majority of providers are now good or outstanding, their businesses are also under immense pressure. Increasing costs alongside poor funding levels for ‘free’ places for taking their toll. The number of registered childminders has dropped by more than a quarter in the past five years. Improved funding levels, monthly payments and reduced red tape remain key to success and PACEY will continue to raise these issues with ministers.

“The Department must also follow through on its early years workforce strategy, to incentivise early years practitioners to stay in the sector, further develop their skills, and progress their careers. So there is much for the sector and the new education secretary to work together to achieve.”

The post of Work and Pensions Secretary which was rejected by Justine Greening was given to Esther McVey.


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