Call to bridge attainment gap in disadvantaged children through reform of 30 hours nursery policy

Learning and development amongst disadvantaged three-and four-year-olds is proven to improve significantly when their funded childcare doubles from 15 hours to 30.

That’s according to new research commissioned by the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF).

The research, which assessed the impact of offering vulnerable children up to 30 hours of learning per week in 12 of its 39 nurseries, compared to the standard government funded hours of 15 per week, revealed an average eight percent improvement in seven key EYFS learning and development areas.

Setting out the case for further improving access to early education for the poorest children ‘locked out’ of crucial early years education, LEYF is now calling on both the government and global investors to provide £165m of urgent funding to bridge the initial shortfall and widen access to the current 30 hours offer. Without this, LEYF warns that progress in closing attainment gaps will diminish, with potentially devastating consequences for the 1.3 million children (aged under 5) who live in poverty in the UK.

When LEYF saw its most vulnerable children arriving at nursery hungry, anxious and developmentally delayed as a result of lockdowns and the impact of living in poverty (exacerbated by the pandemic), it set up the Doubling Down programme in October 2020. Between October 2020 and July 2021, 97 children were offered an additional 15 hours at nursery each week.

Funded by generous donations from Permira Foundation and Barclays 100 x 100 COVID-19 UK Community Relief Fund, analysis from Doubling Down research found:

  • Over 70% of parents and staff saw a positive impact on their child’s communication skills, social development and behaviour.
  • A profound positive impact on the mood, sleep, empathy, school readiness and nutritious eating amongst children.
  • A reduction in the amount of screen time, especially as many of the children had spent months living in high rise flats with no access to a garden or opportunities to play outdoors.

In addition to providing crucial education benefits for vulnerable children, the extra hours at nursery also significantly benefitted parents, many of whom were caring for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Over three quarters (77%) of parents said their own health and wellbeing had improved, with a further 85% more engaged in at-home learning with their children. Staff morale also benefited because they felt they had more time to support vulnerable children’s learning and development effectively.

The external evaluation of the ‘Doubling Down’ programme conducted by Rocket Science (between October 2020 to July 2021) highlighted improvement across ALL seven areas of EYFS learning and development. The largest improvement was a +12% increase in Communication and Language (from 57% to 68%), followed by +9% across Mathematics (from 52% to 61%) and Expressive Arts & Design (from 67% to 76%).

These findings reinforce the case for improving access to early education for the poorest children recently outlined in the landmark report published by the Sutton Trust, in partnership with the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust (19 August 2021), which examined the impact of the current 30 hours policy; the evidence behind the need for change; and options for reform.

June O’Sullivan MBE, chief exec of London Early Years Foundation, said:

“This research provides a strong message to the Government and to global investors, demonstrating that we need to think carefully about how we respond to the fast-emerging problems we are seeing across the country as a result of the pandemic. We clearly need to reverse the alarming decline in the health, wellbeing and education amongst our young children. Access to these crucial extra Government funded hours is benefitting children now and can actually help them level up and reduce the attainment gap that emerges from 22 months in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”

James Turner, chief exec of the Sutton Trust added:

“Today’s research adds yet more weight to the case for expanding access to 30 hours of funded Early Years education. It’s a national scandal that the poorest three and four-year olds are locked out of these crucial opportunities, simply because their parents don’t earn enough. We wouldn’t accept the state providing longer school hours for well-off families, and we shouldn’t accept it in the early years. If we want to make our school system fairer, it needs to begin with giving every child the foundation to succeed at school.”

Date published: November 18, 2021