Some of London’s youngest children are facing lasting increased educational disadvantage due to the effects of the pandemic on early years provision, according to the capital’s cross-party local authority body London Councils.
A new report says Covid’s impacts could “widen entrenched disadvantage” among London’s under-fives by reducing access to nursery places or other forms of childcare and lessening take up of what is available. The early years sector across the country has remained open during the pandemic, even when schools have been closed
Stressing the value of early years learning to a child’s future years in school, the report says boroughs are concerned that government financial support for the sector will fall short of what is now required, while private, voluntary and independent providers (PVIs) face uncertain financial circumstances, partly because some parents kept their children at home because of fears about Covid infection.
London’s early years sector, which also encompasses nurseries linked to schools and individual childminders, comprised over 10,400 organisations and individuals at the start of last year, according to the report. It is funded by a mixture of Department for Education money and parents’ fees.
There is universal entitlement to 15 hours of early years education and support per week for all three and four year-olds and for two year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds. An additional 15 hours can be secured by for children of eligible working parents.
London Councils fear there will be a drop in capacity across this fragmented sector which will make it harder for children from poorer homes to overcome the “attainment gap” that already exists between them and their peers after Covid has already taken its heaviest toll on Londoners who already faced disadvantage.
The report proposes a five-point plan to ensure that pre-school Londoners do not miss out during the recovery period. It urges the government to:
- Make a minimum funding guarantee to protect early years settings that have seen reduced use of their provision.
- Give unspent money earmarked for disadvantaged two year-olds to local authorities to encourage increased take-up, which historically been low in London.
- Allocate unspent tax-free childcare allowances to councils to encourage take-up and help parents with home-learning.
- Guarantee long-term funding for local authority nurseries.
The fifth point is to collaborate to promote the benefits of early years education at local level, especially among disadvantaged two year-olds. Elizabeth Campbell, London Councils executive member for children and schools, said: We share the government’s ambition to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life, but we have real concerns that the Covid-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on reversing these efforts.”
Read the report in full here.
Photograph taken from the report.
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