A fair start in life

12 December 2017

The early years are a vital time in the life of any child. They play a significant role in shaping the person they will become and the opportunities in life they will have. It is also a crucial, and often difficult, time for parents, trying to balance the wellbeing and development of their child with the need to provide financial security.

The early years touch on many aspects of social policy, from education to the labour market to the benefits system. It is a tricky area to get right. But England has a lot to be proud of. In the 20 years since the Blair government introduced the right to free nursery education for all three and four-year-olds, much has changed: mothers are entitled to more time off and families have benefited from tax credits. Sure Start children’s centres brought many services together too, with the aim of giving children the best possible start in life.

However, we still see a big gap in the school readiness of less well-off children and their more advantaged classmates by the time they start school – one that has finally started to narrow, but which remains substantial at over 17 percentage points. This gap continues to widen throughout the school years, making it essential that we close it early so children can begin their formal education on a level playing field and are at less risk of falling behind.

For me, the Pupil Premium and more recently, the Early Years Pupil Premium – additional money given to schools and early years settings to boost the learning of each of their disadvantaged pupils – is the important first step in closing the attainment gap early on. For the first time, the policy has given schools and nurseries a pot of money to target additional resources at the specific needs of their disadvantaged children.

But having the resources is only the first step. It is how those resources are spent that will really make the difference. At the EEF we believe that evidence of ‘what works’ is key to making sure the Pupil Premium has the maximum possible impact.

While there is some high-quality evidence about ‘what works’ in the early years – for example, our Early Years Toolkit highlights approaches underpinned by robust research – there is very little evidence available to indicate which specific interventions are most effective in improving children’s learning and development.

To put practitioners in the best possible position to raise outcomes, we need to test carefully different approaches to teaching and learning, build an evidence base of effective strategies and encourage early years settings, government, and others to apply an evidence-based approach to narrowing the attainment gap. At the EEF, we’re looking particularly at self-regulation, communication and parental involvement strategies in the early years, three areas where there is some evidence of promise.

High-quality, evidence-based early years education for the country’s most disadvantaged toddlers must be an essential part of the government’s long-term plan to close the attainment gap. Doing so could go some way to making sure that every child has a fair start to life.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation @EducEndowFoundn 

 

 

This article was published in Reform’s social mobility conference brochure on the 12th December 2017. You can read the full article here.

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