The Sutton Trust points out that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged counterparts is already evident when children begin school aged 5, with a gap between them the equivalent of 4.3 months of learning. This gap more than doubles to 9.5 months at the end of primary school, and then more than doubles again to 19.3 months at the end of secondary school.
Lack of direction in Government's approach
Despite the efforts and Government's good intentions to improve early years education, the Committee's report finds there is lack of direction in the approach to early years policy. The Committee calls for Government action in three key areas to help tackle the social injustices which currently exist in early years education and childcare.
First, the Government should reform the 30 hours free childcare offer and target provision to early education for disadvantaged children. Second, maintained nursery schools should be fully funded. Third, the Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to join up early years services and build on the success of children’s centres and other provision, such as family hubs.
High-quality early years education can help to tackle injustice
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"Tackling social injustice is the central objective of the Education Committee. Despite the good intentions and efforts made by the Government, there remain significant social injustices in children’s life chances in England which early years childcare and education is failing to address.
Supporting a child in the early years of their life is crucial to tackling social injustice and giving children the best possible chance to succeed. How well young people achieve at school has a massive impact on their life-chances. Sadly, we know that disadvantaged children start school behind their peers and that the gap widens, unless tackled, by the time they get to secondary school. But high-quality early years education, with well-trained professionals, can help to tackle this injustice and help these children climb the ladder of opportunity. It’s vital the Government reform the 30-hour childcare offer to focus it to help the most disadvantaged. The Government should also ensure that maintained nurseries, who often deliver excellent outcomes for disadvantaged kids, get the funding support they need.
A strong home learning environment can have a major impact on children’s life chances. The Government needs to come forward with a comprehensive strategy for early years services, including children’s centres and family hubs, to give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life".
In 2016, disadvantaged pupils were on average 19.3 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs. The Education Policy Institute estimates that "at the current rate of progress, it would take a full 50 years to reach an equitable education system where disadvantaged pupils did not fall behind their peers during formal education to age 16."
The Committee welcomes the cross-government working group chaired by Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, which is reviewing how to improve the support available to families in the period around childbirth to the age of 2.