Welcome to another month on the early years news roundabout.
It’s been another busy month this February, and we’ve just about managed to squeeze it all into our top ten stories of the month. From shoe salespeople helping with language development to worrying developments about the reception baseline, we’ve got it all here.
So without further ado, here’s all the early years news that you need to know for March 2019, in video and in writing.
1. Some early language development with those shoes, sir?
One story that’s captured lots of people’s attention this month is the government plans to train thousands of workers at Clarks shoe shops to help children develop speech, language, and communication skills.
With pay continuing to stagnate, many have seen the move as a further insult to the sector, suggesting a shoe shop worker can take up the mantle of a qualified practitioner. Nursery World has a summary of the sector responses.
+ The government have also announced specialist training for health visitors in some of the most deprived areas of England to help close the language gap in the early years.
+ Another hot topic this month – potty training. This after a survey of early years staff showing 68% report that children are being potty trained later and later over the last five years. The busy lifestyles of parents, according to many nursery workers, are meaning a shift in potty training workload over to practitioners.
2. Baseline pilot going ahead
Despite increasing pressure from a variety of campaigners, schools have now been invited to begin piloting the Reception Baseline Assessment this month.
The Baseline Assessment is intended to help set a benchmark for the government to judge schools, based on how children progress between reception and when they leave primary.
But as our guest post from campaign group More Than a Score explains, the plan is ill-thought out, and has no tangible benefits to child development. What’s more, the data teachers are collecting is fallible, and not even reliable enough for the described use. Read the piece here, and sign the petition linked at the bottom of the page to have your voice heard.
3. Is 30 hours ‘entrenching disadvantage’?
A comprehensive report by government MPs has claimed that the 30 hours is entrenching disadvantage’, and is ‘failing to address significant social injustices in children’s life chances’.
The report, which was picked up by international publications, was conducted by speaking with early ears experts and charities. It finds the government lacking in clear direction and taking a ‘confused approach’, citing three main areas to tackle:
- The government should reform the 30 hours offer and target provision to disadvantaged children.
- Maintained nursery schools should be fully funded (more on this later).
- The government should develop a comprehensive strategy to join up early years services, building on the success of children’s centres.
The report also says they received evidence the scheme was a ‘car crash’, and that by putting financial pressure on nurseries and providing already advantaged children with more quality childcare, the availability of disadvantaged two-year-old places has suffered.
+ Wakefield council have backed these claims up during their schools forum, saying that the 30 hours offer has ‘limited choice’ and contributed to a growing outcomes gap.
+ The Health and Social Care Committee are pushing the government to produce a long-term strategy for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
+ The equivalent scheme in Wales has just received £60m in funding to help prepare existing childcare settings to take up the 30 hours offer.
4. The mental health of the early years workforce
The newly renamed Early Years Alliance (previously Pre-school Learning Alliance), has announced a joint venture with the DfE and Ofsted to tackle mental health concerns in the early years.
This follows the Alliance’s Minds Matter survey last year which showed that more than one in four early years staff were considering leaving the sector due to stress and mental health difficulties.
The partnership will include focus groups and surveys to scope the problem further, before looking into ways to tackle the problem. The new Ofsted inspection framework will be an early target for improving expectations and workload.
+ A former inspector and now nursery owner has called for Ofsted inspections to be postponed when owners or managers are away. While offering sympathy, the initial response from Ofsted charts problems with administering the proposal, making it unlikely to come into force.
+ Following last month’s Ceeda report on the staffing crisis, this month they undertook a roundtable event with leading figures to look into how they can tackle it. Read the full report for ideas and thoughts you can implement in your own setting.
5. The month in child development
Here are the studies worth paying attention to from the last month:
- Newborn babies have an inbuilt ability to pick out words according to a recent study from The University of Liverpool. The researchers found that at three days old, infants already had two key mechanisms to pick out words in a stream of sound.
- Children inherit some personal beliefs and morals from their genetics, according to this Penn State study, showing that it could be more than just upbringing that affects a child’s moral character.
- Being surrounded by green space in childhood can improve mental health later in life, with this study from Aarhus University showing children who grow up in greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing mental disorders when they become adults.
- Hearing two languages at home can help develop attention in babies. Six-month-old babies in this York University study who were brought up hearing more than one language showed better attention control compared to single-language tots.
- The LEGO-funded Centre for Research in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL) has launched a new hub which aims to make research, policy and practice from around the world more accessible to teachers, practitioners, and parents.
6. £24m to save maintained nurseries
Following warnings from a cross-party group of MPs that hundreds of maintained nurseries would close within the year without funding, £24m in emergency funding has been announced to help save the nurseries.
The funding announcement followed a mass petition being delivered to parliament by more than 30 MPs. Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced the stop-gap funding of £24 million for the 2019/20 school year to a strong reception from MPs and charities.
However, many in the private and voluntary sector feel ignored in this latest announcement, with Early Years Alliance’s Neil Leitch saying that while he welcomes the investment in the maintained nurseries, it is “at best a stop-gap measure which will safeguard the short-term future of a tiny proportion of childcare provision used by only a few thousand parents.”
+ This month also saw the news that children in the most deprived area of the country – West Somerset – have seen a huge improvement in their EYFS outcomes following a major programme of investment from the government.
7. Rising costs for parents and providers
Going to nursery in inner London is now almost as expensive as going to university, according to new figures released by the Coram Family and Childcare Trust. With fees rising by 3% on average, it now costs an average of £9,100 a year for 25 hours of care a week in inner London, compared to annual University tuition fees of £9,250.
With the 30 hours underfunding putting pressure on nurseries to raise rates elsewhere, and business rates, pensions, the cost of living wage and inflation putting more financial pressure on nursery purse-strings, is it any wonder parents have to pay the price? But will the treasury dig into their pockets? Only time will tell…
+ This nursery in Barking and Dagenham have had to open food banks just to make sure that parents have enough food to eat.
8. Ofsted release online safeguarding advice
Looking to review your online policies? Ofsted has recently released new guidance to help early years staff safeguard both children and adults online.
The document includes how various aspects of running a setting might relate to online safety, including a provider’s statutory responsibilities and how they can best evidence what they’re doing.
9. The business bit
A few big deals this month, including a big move from a company just over the English Channel:
10. In other news
+ Founder of Pre-School Learning Alliance Belle Tutaev has sadly died at the age of 90. Belle first set up the Alliance in 1961 after challenging the government to establish more nursery schools and play facilities for under-fives.
+ As if you needed any more proof of a child’s creativity, but this brilliant video from LEGO pits the creative skills of 4 and 5-year-old against their adult counterparts. You can imagine how it goes…
+ The world’s tiniest baby has finally left a Tokyo Hospital. Weighing in at just 268g when he was born at 24 weeks, he spent five months in the hospital.
+ The Nursery Recognition awards have been announced, with Evolution Childcare taking home the big prize for Best Nursery Group.