As so often when it comes to the OECD’s reports, England can do better – but there are signs that we are improving.
The first few years of a child’s life set the foundations for their future: their development and their learning pave the way for what will follow, potentially reducing poverty and improving social mobility. Those who receive good early years education get significantly better scores in international tests run by the OECD at the age of 15. And in countries where the proportion of under-threes in formal education and care is high, there is less obesity.
And it isn’t just outcomes for children that are better if good, affordable childcare and early years education are made available – it makes wider employment possible, with more parents able to work, especially mothers. For instance, the high proportion of mothers working in, for example, the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal, is matched by the high proportion of young children enrolled in childcare in those countries.
An understanding of these long-term and wide-reaching benefits explains why many OECD countries – including England – have increased their investment in early childhood education and care in recent years, and a welcome attention from policy-makers.
But Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, said at the launch that the Government offers less free early education to three-year-olds, at just 15 hours a week, than any other developed country. Even when that is doubled to 30 hours in September, it will only bring us to the international average, he added, warning also that the plan was unlikely to help disadvantaged children.
Pay for those working in the sector in England is also low. The reports highlight how the wages of graduates who work in pre-schools here are on the whole below those of other graduates. That means graduates are far less likely to work in the sector, which stifles attempts to raise the status of the profession.
The reports also look at the transition for children into primary. They show that – even if there is strong investment in the early years – the advantages children might gain from good early education can be lost during the first years of primary school, if the transitions between early years and primary schooling are not well-prepared, or if continuity in quality is not ensured in primary education.
Around the world – the transition from the last period of early childhood education to the start of primary school is for many children their first experience of a big cultural change – in the people surrounding them, the ways in which they interact, their number of peers, the types of activities they are engaged in, and their physical surroundings.
A good experience in that transition is likely to influence whether or not they can develop their full potential, and their ability to cope successfully with future transitions.
PLMR’s work in the early years has brought us alongside a huge number of talented, committed people in the sector, all determined to give our youngest children the very best start in life.
But the Government’s investment and policy focus in recent years – including the decision in March to bring an end to the GCSE-only policy for Level 3 Early Years Educators (the Save Our Early Years campaign led by the awarding body CACHE and delivered by PLMR) shows that our political decision-makers share that commitment.
The OECD’s reports are clear that we are not yet offering the same quality or breadth of early years education and childcare as many other countries – but that we have improved and are on an upward trajectory. The certain commitment of those in the sector, and the promising policies being adopted by the Government, indicate that we can hope soon to be close to, if not alongside, the world leaders on early years – if there is funding to match.