Early education alone can’t close the gap

Posted by Dan Breslin / Thursday 23 August 2018 / Early intervention Children's centres
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Today, the Early Intervention Foundation published new analysis looking at the impact of the two-year-old early education entitlement on age five outcomes.

Introduced by the Coalition Government, building on work of the previous Labour Government, the entitlement was an important step towards expanding early education and seeking to close the gap in outcomes between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Successive governments have considered early education the key to tackling the persistent trend of disadvantaged children falling behind before they reach the school gates. The Foundation’s analysis makes for interesting reading.

First, the good news.

When looking at outcomes at a local authority level there is a positive link between take up of the two-year-old early education entitlement and improvement in results for disadvantaged children.

While the national picture is less clear, local authorities are the ones tasked with closing the gap for children within their boundaries. This mean that if the entitlement is helping local authorities deliver positive results, the policy is showing a noticeable success.

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Now, the not so good news.

Take up of the entitlement remains worryingly low, especially in certain urban areas. As the entitlement is only available to disadvantaged children, anything less than 100 per cent take up means some children who stand to benefit are missing out.

And, whilst there is a positive link emerging at a local level, this was not as clear and obvious on outcomes at age five as would be hoped. It means the entitlement is a step forward rather than a leap.

Of course, this isn’t to say the entitlement isn’t value for money. There is overwhelming evidence about the importance of early education on outcomes at age five and in later life. We need to look further at the impact in years to come before coming to a definitive answer on whether the entitlement has been success.

However, what the analysis does show is that the entitlement isn’t the sole intervention to close the gap. If it was, the gap would have collapsed in the last few years.

It means that a holistic approach is still the right way forward.  

As governments have focussed on early education, over a 1,000 children’s centres have closed. Many more have reduced services and are working with fewer young children.

We see in our children’s centres the challenges disadvantaged children have with communication, language, behaviour and social and emotional development. Tackling these and helping parents support their child’s development is crucial. What happens at home makes a measurable difference to outcomes at age five.

The entitlement alone will not make up for a lack of help and support for parents.

This is why we are calling on the Government to launch a review of early years services. You can add your voice to our call here.

A review is the only way we can set a clear direction for early years services to help tackle disadvantage and finally close the gap.