Should schools be involved in nursery provision?

At a Policy Exchange event held yesterday with Childcare Minister and Conservative MP, Sam Gyimah MP, the Minister set out the government’s plans for increasing the number of pre-schools within schools, as well as the argument for nursery schools taking children from the age of two.

Of course, this won’t go down well in all corners, with some believing that two is too young for children to go into an educational environment, as it’s “too much too soon”.

It was interesting to see the first ever male Childcare Minister take on what is not considered to be a traditional Tory policy area. While Sam stated that childcare is very much an issue for both parents, it may be seen that this is not the case, and is an attempt by the Conservative party to win the ‘women’s vote’. Here, I report back on Sam’s speech.

Importance of early years education
Beginning the session, Sam spoke about why it is that early years education is so important. He included in this what I thought was a nice anecdote by his mother, who had read to him extensively every night because she believed that education was the only inheritance she could leave her kids, and that a good education would take care of them when they grew up.

Sam’s stats:

  • The most disadvantaged four year olds start school up to a year before their peers from wealthier backgrounds
  • Those who go to pre-school can earn £27,000 more during their career than those who don’t
  • A child who has attended pre-school is also more likely to get better GCSEs (the difference between 7 C’s and 7 B’s)

The Minister asserted that early years provision is so important because by the time kids start school in reception, their chances in life are pretty much set, and this should not be the case.

Labour’s childcare record
No speech given by a politician would be complete without a dig at the other side, or ‘previous administration’, and this was no different. Sam said “it’s easy to forget the childcare mess we inherited”, citing the dramatic decrease in the number of child-minders, UK parents facing some of the highest childcare costs in the world, and the fact that even Labour’s former minister admitted they got it wrong by pouring money into tax credits instead of focusing on the supply side.

The Government’s plans for childcare
Sam said that the Government wanted every parent to have the choice of a “good, local nursery school”. They will be encouraging schools to join up with nurseries (voluntary, private and independent nurseries) or to consider the nursery provision they can offer. This will enable families to have the “flexibility of private nurseries, and the expertise of schools”.

Schools who currently have nursery provision see big benefits, according to Sam, including the fact that schools can identify issues earlier, and therefore offer tailored support sooner, schools can strengthen links with communities, parents may be able to go back to work, and the transition from nursery to reception is easier for everyone. Importantly, this helps to ‘close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children’.

Increasing the early years offering
Sam said that the government are working with many schools in London to stay open from 8 – 6pm (moving from 9-3pm). Furthermore, the government are providing a £5million fund for teaching school alliances, enabling them to work with early years providers to help drive up quality, especially in disadvantaged areas. He noted that there have been 144 expressions of interest which are currently being looked at.

Nursery school provision from the age of two
According to Sam, taking children from the age of two only enhances the advantages described. He cited a project called the ‘Two Year Olds In Schools Demonstration Project’, involving 49 schools, either introducing new provision for two-year olds, or developing existing provision. 26 of 49 schools that took part have agreed to champion two year old provision, and parents were overwhelmingly positive, with drop up and pick up times becoming easier.

Importantly, schools successfully implementing new means of provision will become ‘trail blazers’.

The “too much too soon” critique
Apprehending any criticism of children starting school earlier, Sam said that additional time spent at school at a younger age doesn’t mean that children will be taught ‘as schools kids’ at the age of two, but means that children can play together, and therefore develop their speech and social skills and learn in an age appropriate way.

In conclusion, Sam said that he wants all schools to consider the nursery provision they can offer. It will be interesting to see how this plan progresses up until the general election and what will happen on the other side.

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