The new report puts forward a number of recommendations to support young children as we ease out of lockdown.
The initiatives include a significant shake up in parental leave rights and major support for the youngest children and their parents as part of the government’s ‘levelling up’ response post-Covid-19.
The Early Years Commission was co-chaired by Labour’s Sharon Hodgson MP and former Conservative minister for children and families, Edward Timpson CBE MP, and set up to explore how to improve services for children from conception to age five.
The report read:
“Despite improvements among some children, too many continue to fall behind in their first few years, particularly those living in poverty. Many are not ready to learn by the age of five and struggle with their health and wellbeing, leading to damaging long-term consequences. This reality obstructs our country’s path to a more prosperous future. We will never truly level up if we don’t recognise this. There are steps we can take now to help those children, even though they and we may not realise the benefits for decades.”
Three core priorities are to:
• Make young children society’s top priority, by working to end child poverty and deliver public service innovation focused on their needs regardless of circumstance.
• Support parents to make their homes a nurturing, safe environment where a baby takes their first steps into a healthy, long, and happy life. We can do so by giving parents time away from work, the financial stability to focus on their child, and the community and professional support they need to have strong and healthy relationships.
• Put our children at the heart of their community and public services, which we can do by investing in early education – as well as children’s centres and family hubs that provide integrated support to all children, but especially those in greatest need.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief exec of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “Evidence has repeatedly shown that children’s early education and development are absolutely crucial to their long term educational outcomes and their life chances as a result. The Early Years Commission’s report and manifesto underlines how important it is to us as a society to get early years right for children, parents and communities.
“The fact that only 1% of the public believe the Government is investing enough in our children’s earliest years is a damning indictment of the current offers. It is clear that underfunding is undermining the efforts of nurseries to deliver the best quality early education and care to children and families.
“The public backs better investment in our young children so the Government should be focusing its education recovery efforts in early years where we know it can have the greatest impact. We back the Commission’s recommendations to address underfunding in early years to make sure providers are sustainable and children are truly at the heart of the policy.”
Commenting Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief exec, said:
“We know that the first five years of a child’s life are absolutely critical to their long-term life chances – and yet, for years now, the early years sector has been at the bottom of the pile of government priorities.
“With both early years providers and parents of young children all too often completely overlooked during the pandemic, the findings of this survey sadly come as no surprise.
“The Commission is absolutely right to advocate for greater parity of spending between the early years and primary education, which currently sees substantially greater investment in the UK, and for far greater pre- and post-natal support for new parents.
“We urge the government to take this opportunity to completely rethink its approach to the early years, and to ensure that those caring for and educating children in their most important years are given the support they need and deserve.”