Money, as they say, makes the world go round.
That’s why we’re looking so closely at the latest consultation to come out of the Department for Education. The government is planning the biggest reform of early years funding in a decade, and consulting on the details until 22 September.
The early years are so important for children’s learning, and for closing the huge gap between those growing up in poverty and their classmates. To capture the many and well-documented benefits, there must be enough money in the system, and the way that it’s divided should not just protect, but improve, the quality of early education.
Talking about ‘quality’ can be generic and idealistic, and difficult to pin down in some cases. Not so in the early years. A wealth of evidence tells us that a workforce that is led by early years teachers (EYTs), supported by valued and skilled staff, improves quality. Investing in the workforce, and increasing the number of EYTs, improves children’s outcomes and nurseries’ Ofsted grades. It can even eradicate the gap between nurseries in poorer and more affluent areas.
Yet there are no plans to invest specifically in the workforce in the new funding proposals. Instead, the government is planning to scrap dedicated funding for quality in England.
This is a terrible missed opportunity.
The current funding for quality (called the ‘quality supplement’) isn’t perfect, but removing it with no replacement sends the message that it’s something that can be swept aside when streamlining the funding system, and that quality isn’t crucial. Parents, nursery workers, children’s charities, academics and researchers all disagree. We know just how important the quality of early education is, particularly for disadvantaged children.
Instead of scrapping the quality supplement, Save the Children is calling on the government to replace it with a Workforce Quality Supplement. This would be a dedicated funding stream to help pay for the training and employment of EYTs and staff with equivalent graduate qualifications. Investing in the early years workforce is the best way to improve quality, and a much better use of a limited funding pot than some of the government’s other spending plans. A Workforce Quality Supplement would also cushion some of the impact of the government’s other proposals, which might see schools and maintained nurseries facing a funding cut.
What is Save the Children is calling for?
Raising quality is at the heart of Save the Children’s consultation response, but it also highlights several other opportunities to ensure the best outcomes for children. Our response will call on the government to:
- replace the existing quality supplement with a Workforce Quality Supplement (to invest sustainably in the early years workforce and increase the number of EYTs and graduates)
- rethink how it assesses the level of deprivation in different areas, to ensure a more consistent and accurate approach
- set a national criteria and minimum funding level for funding for disadvantaged children
- extend financial protections for school-based provision, which could see a big drop in funding under the government’s current plans – this would particularly benefit disadvantaged children, who are more likely to attend school-based early years provision
- set up an Early Years Commission to advise on funding rates and sector development, which would be evidence-based and independent of government
- consider the overall funding pot regularly, and commit to regular review and long-term investment in the early years, to keep up with costs and improve quality.
Ultimately, we will need to invest more funding in early education in the longer term if we want it deliver the maximum benefits to children, especially those living in poverty. At the moment, the very best provision is led by EYTs and qualified support staff, and helped by graduate management support. Much of this is in schools and maintained nurseries. Without more funding, these are the settings that may see funding cuts. Instead, we want to see all settings being funded to this level, and able to offer such quality.
Every child deserves the best start in life, regardless of where they live or how much money their family has. We are calling on the government to use the funding system to make that a reality, and to seize this opportunity to invest in quality, the workforce, and better outcomes for children everywhere.