The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has released a report reviewing the evidence around quality childcare as part of its wider project “Childcare: A strategic national priority?”.

“Early developments: Bridging the gap between evidence and policy in early-years education”  looks at how high quality early-years care can best be achieved in the UK by detailing 10 lessons for policy makers as well as a number of concrete measures to adopt.

Key Lessons:

  • Young children have varying needs depending on age range, with the youngest children requiring the responsive affection of both their parents, followed by care in low child-to-adult ratio settings. Children aged three and above should receive care in formal group settings provided by professionals with high level, childcare-related qualifications (preferably graduate-level).
  • Graduate-level professionals with degrees in childcare improve the quality of provision, with the greatest impact when they spend a majority of the time directly interacting with the children and setting the curriculum.
  • Early years education needs to resist ‘schoolification’ and offer age-appropriate, play-based learning rather than school-type learning.
  • Ofsted ratings for under-threes do not always match the provision assessment using ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales) which throws doubt on the reliability of Ofsted judgements.
  • Children from deprived backgrounds are least likely to have access to high-quality care, even though they are likely to have most to gain from good childcare. Mechanisms that boost quality and uptake in the most disadvantaged areas are needed to eradicate this trend.

Implications for policy:

  • Care: Adapt policy for the different needs of children at different ages; the youngest need stability and low ratios, while those three and over need a highly qualified workforce.
    • Increase paternity leave to an optional 1 month (independent of mother’s leave)
    • Reject proposals to relax ratios for the youngest children, and only accept them for over-threes in settings which meet high quality requirements.
    • Extend the entitlement for 2 year olds and consider extending to one-year olds.
  • Qualifications: Aim to have graduate-level Early Years Professionals in every setting that delivers free entitlement, with priority to disadvantaged areas.
    • All practitioners working directly with children should have or be working towards a childcare-related level 3 qualification.
  • Disadvantage: Boost uptake by disadvantaged children in high-quality settings by encouraging participation through outreach programmes or cash incentives.
    • Consider higher qualification requirements in disadvantaged areas and/or  offer financial incentives for the best qualified staff to work in disadvantaged areas
    • Consider creating an early-years pupil premium
  • Ofsted: Ensure Ofsted score better reflect child outcomes by revising scores and incorporating elements of the ECERS scales.
    • Ofsted staff should also be trained specifically in early years practice and provide stronger action points and detailed feedback.
  • Support: With the withdrawal of local authority support, the sector lacks the resource to drive improvement on its own, so professional accountability and support structures need to be built by for example creating a royal college of early years practitioners.

The report suggests that money to fund some of these recommendations could be found by utilising current funding more effectively, and rethinking the extension of tax relief on childcare (largely benefiting higher-income families) or by diverting money from other areas of government.

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