Progress for poorer children is stalling: we need a bold new vision

Posted by Sam Reeve / Thursday 06 December 2018 / Campaigns
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Headlines for the past week have, predictably, been dominated by Brexit. Whether it be the proposed role of Parliament, the possibility of a “no deal” scenario, or even the risk of a TV debate clashing with the I’m a Celebrity final, the furore has been hard to escape.

But, away from talk of legal advice and backstops, some really important statistics were published last week by the Department for Education that didn’t get the attention they deserve.

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The importance of growth

Additional detail on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYSFP) outcomes, looking amongst other things at outcomes for children from less affluent backgrounds, were released last week. While they show continued growth, they also demonstrate little progress on one of the central issues in education – the attainment gap children from low-income backgrounds and their peers.

 

First the good news. The latest data shows that almost 72 per cent of children were deemed “school ready” by age five last year – an improvement of around a fifth since 2013/4. The equivalent figure for children from low-income backgrounds is 57 per cent, from a starting point of 45 per cent five years ago.

The devil and the detail

While EYFSP results have improved across the board, children from poorer backgrounds remain behind their peers. More worrying, the gap between these groups has barely closed in the past five years, narrowing by just two percentage points.

And while the gap in England as a whole has remained constant at 17 points, more regions of the country have seen the gap grow than have seen it shrink since last year. This means that, in these areas, poorer children are further behind than they were before.

With funding for local government falling and spending on vital early years services like children’s centres collapsing, this should hardly be surprising. But it’s not just money that’s important; it’s also about clear political leadership and setting high standards.

 

How to drive further improvements

We know that closing the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is a challenge. But it is one that should be front and centre of any government’s thinking.

With this in mind, we welcomed the Prime Minister’s creation this summer of a ministerial working group to look at early years provision. And we have been pleased to see several influential select committees in the House of Commons pick up the baton and look at aspects of the support available.

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But if the Government is going to close the gap in the early years and deliver on its promise to give every child the best possible start in life, ministers need to grasp this opportunity and come up with a bold vision for the future of early years and family support services

Taking the whole range of evidence available – be it from select committees, service providers, academics or others – the working group has the chance to drive the Government’s thinking and make innovative suggestions for the future direction of services, giving clarity about what they should be achieving for children and families, and around the accountability framework needed. 

If ministers can do this, they will secure the best chance to close the gap and to give every child the best start in life.

And you can help ramp up the pressure by signing Action for Children’s petition here.