Before the summer Parliamentary recess, Wera Hobhouse, Bath MP and Liberal Democrat Equalities Spokesperson, secured and led a debate on early years education.
She underlined the sector’s vital role in closing the attainment gap, urging the Government to completely rethink early years funding.
Wera Hobhouse said:
“Early years leaders and staff have risen to every challenge that the past year and a half has thrown at them, putting their own health at risk to ensure that children are cared for and educated.
“All evidence points to the immense value of early years settings in shaping children’s development, yet it has been chronically underfunded. Early years settings provide long-term benefits for our economy and society. They remove barriers to employment and training, particularly for women, and help to close the attainment gap between children from low-income families and their more advantaged peers. Research shows that 40% of the gap in attainment outcomes is evident by the age of five.
“Throughout the pandemic, I have been in regular contact with local early years providers including First Steps Bath, Widcombe Acorns, YMCA Bath City Nursery and Atelier Nursery. Their message to the Minister is clear: ‘Acknowledge the value of early years education and pay what it costs to deliver it.’
“The National Day Nurseries Association reports that nursery closures have increased by 35% in the past financial year, affecting more than 11,000 children’s places. The highest number of closures happen in the most deprived communities. High-quality early education is by far the single biggest factor in reducing the attainment gap and inequality.
“My plea is for the Government to level up the long-term funding stream for education for the more deprived communities in our country, making it an urgent priority. Covid has widened the gap between the funding and what it costs to deliver, placing even more strain on an already fragile sector which struggles to pay its staff. According to YMCA research, 80% of childcare settings cannot deliver childcare at the funding rate provided by their local authority.
In conclusion, Wera Hobhouse said:
“The Government must prioritise the early years sector for investment in the upcoming comprehensive spending review. Funding rates must meet the costs of delivering high-quality education and care. Early years leaders in my constituency need to plan for the coming years. They need certainty.”
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