Labour launches engagement events to start “big conversation” on early years

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour will launch a programme of engagement events to talk to families about education and childcare services as new data shows the Tories have cut spending on Sure Start centres and under fives by 40% since 2015.

On a visit to a London Early Years Foundation nursery on Friday with Sadiq Khan and Kate Green, shadow minister Tulip Siddiq will stress the need for a “big conversation” to ensure all children can recover from the pandemic.

Government figures show that local authority expenditure in the financial year 2019/20, on Sure Start children’s centres and children under five, was £560m. This was down 6% on the previous year and it has fallen each year since 2014/15.

Spending stood at £945m in 2014/15 and has fallen by 41% across England. The reduction varies from a 63% drop in the South East and 53% in the West Midlands, to 26% for local authorities in inner London and 24% in the East of England.

Ahead of the visit, Tulip Siddiq said: “The early years are critical for a child’s development and childcare is a fundamental building block of our economy but, over the last decade, early years services have been neglected.”

“This Conservative government has failed to listen to families who have been unable to get the childcare, early education and wellbeing support they need.”

In a Department for Education survey carried out in August last year, 30,838 childcare providers out of the 64,400 registered with Ofsted reported that they were not confident about their ability to continue for a year or longer.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to have a big conversation with the public about how we can rebuild this essential infrastructure,” the shadow minister for children and early years added.

Her comments today come amid growing concerns over the early years sector, with the education regulator Ofsted reporting that there were 12,000 fewer providers across England in August 2020 than there were in March 2015.

The series of engagement events will form part of Labour’s ‘Bright Future’ taskforce, launched by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green in March, to develop a national strategy for children’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout this pandemic, with had no plan to protect early years providers nor support the families who rely on their vital services,” Green said. “Labour wants to see children at the heart of our national recovery.

“Through engagement with parents, providers, children and experts our Bright Future taskforce will develop a national strategy to ensure every child can recover the learning and social development lost during the pandemic and has the chance to reach their full potential.”

The party has said that its taskforce will focus on the whole experience of the education system, from early years through to adulthood, and that it will consider children’s happiness and wellbeing as well as educational attainment.

The government released its own education recovery plan earlier this year. Green criticised the proposals for what she argued was a lack of ambition to tackle the scale of the damage done throughout the pandemic.

The programme unveiled by the government includes £200m of funding to expand the national tutoring programme and a £302m “recovery premium” that will be given directly to schools to support the most disadvantaged pupils.

Announced at a Covid press briefing in February, Boris Johnson described the plan as an “extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils”.

“Our package of measures will deliver vital support to the children and young people who need it most, making sure everyone has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential no matter their background,” Gavin Williamson said.

But critics of the plan have argued that the measures put forward do not go far enough. The National Education Union’s Mary Bousted said at the time that the £200m announced for summer schemes “won’t be anywhere near big enough”.

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