UK general elections: The Future of The Early Years sector

What UK political parties are pledging
The future of The Early Years Sector
July 2, 2024
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In a rush? Here’s the quick rundown:

  • We'll cover the major issues facing the sector, like staffing shortages, inadequate pay, and lack of respect.
  • We'll break down what the major UK political parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Green Party) are promising for Early Years education.
  • We'll highlight the key points from the Early Years Alliance manifesto aimed at improving education and staff wellbeing.
  • We'll discuss why it's crucial to understand these policies and how you can use this info to make a smart choice at the polls.

With the UK general elections coming up, it's time to start thinking about how the results might impact your Early Years setting and the sector as a whole. Being prepared and informed will help you make a wise decision on election day. It will also help you be ready for whatever comes next. Stay informed to navigate changes and continue providing quality care and education for children.

Voting with young children in mind is important because today's decisions will affect the support and resources they get. It’s important to do anything we can to speak up for the children’s needs, especially because they can’t. By being proactive, we can help shape policies that ensure a better future for them.

The Early Years sector has been facing a lot of challenges. From a shortage of educators and inadequate pay to a lack of recognition and respect, it's been a rough ride - for lack of a better word. While these issues won’t be fixed overnight, many educators and experts are hopeful that changes in policy can turn things around for the better.

That’s why it's crucial to understand what each UK political party is planning in terms of policy changes before we vote.

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The Early Years Alliance manifesto

The Early Years Alliance has put together a manifesto to advocate for the changes needed to improve the quality of Early Years education, staff retention and staff wellbeing.

But, before I summarise their key recommendations, you might be wondering so who are these guys and why should we trust their recommendations? The Early Years Alliance is the largest and most representative Early Years membership organisation in England. Their goal as a charity is to provide affordable, high-quality education and care to help children and families in need. This helps bridge the education gap between these children and their peers.

This January Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:

"The government constantly talks about the need to close the attainment gap, and yet their approach to the Early Years is likely to achieve the exact opposite. It's clear that the whole approach to childcare and early education needs a complete rethink – otherwise, it is those children who need the most support who will lose out."

Here’s a summary of their key recommendations:

  • Emergency financial rescue package: Immediate support for the sector followed by a thorough review to ensure the industry is well funded.
  • Tax exemptions: Exempt Early Years providers from business rates and VAT.
  • Childminder restrictions: Allow childminders to care for children related to them.
  • Funding increases: Match Early Years pupil premium funding to primary funding levels.
  • Ratio reversal: Changes that came into effect in September 2023 meant that the statutory minimum staff-to-child ratio in England for two-year-olds is now 1:5. The Early Years Alliance recommend changing this back to 1:4.
  • Recruitment and retention: Develop a strategy with clear, adequately funded pay for staff.
  • SEND support: Ensure timely and adequate funding and support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
  • Nutritional support: Additional funding for healthy meals and snacks.
  • Support for baby and toddler groups: Provide practical and financial support as part of wider family initiatives

So you're probably thinking that all sounds great but what’s next and what's the plan? Well, that is largely determined by the political vote. So, to help you make the best decision for the Early Years sector, we’ve gathered key information to help you understand the different parties' plans and policies if they were to win the election.

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UK political parties' plans for Early Years education

Let's dive into the proposed changes and what they could mean for the sector.

The Conservative Party

  • Funded childcare: Starting September 2024, eligible parents with kids aged nine months to two years can get 15 hours of free early education and childcare each week. By September 2025, this will go up to 30 hours a week.
  • Extra funding: Pledging an extra £500 million over the next two years to boost hourly funding rates.
  • Recruitment: Plans to hire more educators, including childminders.
  • Additional setting places: Plans to create more childcare spots while cutting down on paperwork.

What they stand for:

  • Giving parents choices and involving the private sector in Early Years education.
  • Aim to make childcare more available and affordable for working families, with past efforts like extending free childcare hours and offering tax-free childcare schemes.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, says that while these promises are a good start, they’re not enough to secure the sector’s future or handle the likely increase in demand for childcare spots over the next few years.

The Labour Party

  • Additional childcare spots: The Labour Party plans to create 100,000 new early education and childcare places for children nine months old and older.
  • Additional nurseries: They will set up 3,334 nurseries in areas needing more settings by turning classrooms in existing primary schools into nurseries. This initiative will be funded by a VAT on private schools.
  • Equity: Ensure all children, especially in underserved areas, have access to early education.
  • Addressing recruitment and retention crisis: Emphasis on the need for a clear plan to address the staffing crisis in the sector.
  • Changes in Ofsted: Labour’s plan to scrap single-word Ofsted judgments and replace them with “report cards”, and commission an expert-led review of curriculum and assessment.

Currently, only 20% of families in the bottom third of income can access the existing offer of 30 hours of early education for three- and four-year-olds, and parents in full-time education or training are ineligible. Expanding to younger age groups will extend this inequality. Labour aims to address this.

What they stand for:

Labour has always focused on access and equality in Early Years education. They aim to reduce inequalities so all children, no matter their background, can get high-quality early education. In the past, they have increased funding for Early Years and supported disadvantaged families.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, comments :

“With recent research showing that lower-income families and those living in more disadvantaged areas face the biggest challenges when it comes to accessing Early Years provision, it’s clear that whichever party comes into power next month, tackling so-called ‘childcare deserts’ and ensuring equity of access to early education must be a policy priority, and so Labour is right to focus on these important issues.”

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The Liberal Democratic Party

The Liberal Democrats promise to invest in Early Years to ensure flexible, affordable, and fair education and childcare for all families. Their plans include:

  • Extra five funded hours: The Liberal Democrats have pledged to give disadvantaged kids aged three and four an extra five hours of early education each week as well as Tripling the Early Years pupil premium to £1,000 a year.
  • Career strategy for nursery staff: They aim to provide training to support children with special needs and disabilities.
  • Restoring childminding: Plans to simplify regulations and cut down on paperwork.
  • Parental pay and leave: They have pledged to double maternity and shared parental pay, increase paternity leave pay, and add an extra use-it-or-lose-it month for dads and partners.
  • Apprentice rates: The party hopes to ensure apprentices are paid at least the National Minimum Wage by scrapping the lower apprentice rate.
  • Reviewing provider rates: They plan to make sure payments for free hours cover the real costs of high-quality childcare and education.

What they stand for:

The Liberal Democrats push for progressive policies that are flexible. They support measures to help working parents balance work and family life, like extending parental leave and boosting childcare funding. They aim to create an inclusive Early Years system that supports all families.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:

"At the Alliance, we have long called for an early years strategy which recognises the vital need for every child to access high-quality early years while ensuring that the sector itself can sustainably deliver this. As such, it is positive to see that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto includes several policies that look to address this – particularly the pledges to treble Early Years Pupil Premium, review funding rates and implement a career strategy for the workforce."

"Ultimately, however, the devil is in the detail. While we welcome the party's commitment to the sector and the big promises it has put forward today, so far, detail on how these would be implemented remains scant.

Green Party

  • Funding changes: Plans to increase school funding of £8bn, to include £2bn for a pay uplift for teachers.
  • Extending childcare-funded hours: In negotiation with the sector, the Green party pledged to extend the outgoing government’s offer of childcare to 35 hours per week from nine months.
  • Changes to OFSTED: Plans to end high-stakes testing at primary and secondary schools and abolish OFSTED

What they stand for:

The party mixes green policies with left-wing ideas, like well-funded, locally run public services. They push for a balanced economy, tighter control on capitalism, and support fair voting with proportional representation.

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SEND in the Early Years sector

The Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrats all promise to improve support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). They plan to do this by promoting inclusivity in schools. The Liberal Democrats want to create a national body for special education.

The Conservatives plan to add 60,000 school spots and build 15 new free schools for children with special educational needs. This is to reduce regional differences. But there's not much talk about tackling the increasing challenges faced by SEND in Early Years settings, where vital early support begins.

Staying Informed and proactive

This upcoming election is crucial for the Early Years sector. Each party has their own ideas and plans to help young learners. Knowing these can help us fight for the best results. Let's make informed choices to ensure a bright future for the children in our care.

As Neil Leitch OBE, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, puts it:

“You can judge the strength of a government by the way it cares for its youngest children – but more importantly, by the way, it cares for those people who educate and care for those children.”

The big ideas

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