The time children spend in childcare is one of the most important periods in their lives. In fact, it is hard to exaggerate the benefits of high quality childcare for children. It equips children with the educational and social skills that set them up for learning throughout their lives. In these formative years, children learn to cooperate with others, be patient and resilient in the face of challenges, and develop their confidence and self-esteem. Children who have attended childcare have also been shown to get higher GCSE grades and to be more likely to go on to study at A Level, to be more sociable with their peers, and to have higher earning potential when they reach adulthood.
Our election briefing outlines steps that the next government can take to make sure that every child can access the high quality childcare that they need.
We need a well-valued, well-paid workforce. But more than that, we need to trust that childcare professionals, those that work with children day in and day out, know what works in helping young children fulfil their potential. We need childcare professionals to be at the heart of Government to inform practice and policy. We are calling for the next government to introduce a Chief Early Years Officer who will represent childcare professionals, champion their knowledge and expertise, and help to drive improvement in the sector.
All children should be able to benefit from childcare, including those children with special education needs or disabilities (SEND). Currently, only 41 per cent of children with SEND are currently accessing their full 15 hours of free childcare, and some childcare settings struggle to afford the extra support needed to provide high quality care for children with SEND. Missing out on childcare can mean children with SEND fall behind even before they start school. We would like to see the next government work with childcare providers to make sure that no child is turned away from the childcare provider of their choice.
The 15 hours of free childcare should also be extended to all two year olds. The current, targeted approach, means that only the most deprived two year olds can access this offer, which unfairly restricts access to those on middle and higher incomes and unnecessarily stigmatises the use of the free childcare. Extending the entitlement to all children aged two would help to support children’s learning, improve the social mix and help parents return to work.
Despite the clear evidence of the benefit of high quality childcare, primary schools are still receiving almost double the funding of childcare providers. Investing in the early years can narrow the achievement gap that opens up before they even reach school. Childcare should be put on a par with school education by making a childcare place a legal entitlement and moving towards equal funding between schools and early years. This would help childcare settings to hire the best staff and provide the best quality care.
By putting policies in place to address these issues, the next government can go a long way to establishing a childcare system that ensures that all children can access the high quality childcare that is so crucial to their development.