It has been quite a month-and-a-bit in the early years.
Since we sat down to write last month’s briefing, the Famly bookmark folder has been fit to bursting with stories about the 30 hours, the upcoming spending review, early years recruitment, phonics, child development, and so much more.
So without wasting another single word on this intro, let’s get started with this month’s (slightly bumper) edition of the Famly Briefing.
1. New PM + spending review = more money for early years?
With a new Prime Minister due in number 10 this month, and a spending review on the horizon, a number of voices are making increasing noise about more money for the early years.
And it’s really about time.
The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield is calling for the remaining PM-candidates to put the billions they’ve promised for tax cuts towards rebuilding services for the most vulnerable children. Her annual vulnerability report estimates 2.3 million children are now growing up with a vulnerable family background, and calls for a properly evidence-based strategy to tackle the problem.
At the same time:
- The Local Government Association’s survey has shown one in three Local Authorities will not have enough money to provide statutory services such as child protection by the end of this parliament.
- A study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown that Sure Start centres saved the NHS millions – questioning the massive cuts over the last six to eight years to the service. The report has urged the government to recognise the “big positive effect on children’s health” in future spending plans.
- 95% of families have had to cut back on essentials including inhalers, gas, and electric as a result of the two-child cap on universal benefits, according to a report from the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England.
- While the fight for a slice of the pie in the annual spending review is well underway, Damian Hinds has already opened the purse strings slightly, awarding £22m to 66 schools in disadvantaged areas to help them expand their nursery provision. Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi has unveiled the details for their £20m training fun announced last year.
2. MPs attack government early years policy
For almost anyone working in the early years, chief among those spending concerns should be an improvement to the funding for the government’s flagship 30 hours childcare offer.
This month, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Childcare and Early Education released another damning report, entitled Steps To Sustainability. In it, they claim 30 hours has exacerbated the financial situation for nurseries so much that there is now an average 20% shortfall in funding per child. If it continues, they suggest early years education may soon be accessible to only the most wealthy families.
They make nine recommendations to the government, focused on four areas:
- Funding – They must address the funding gap, commit to a cross-department annual review of costs and funding rates and deliver full business rates relief.
- Supporting practitioners – They must support providers to ease recruitment and retention challenges and make reporting requirements less burdensome.
- Social mobility – They must prioritise closing the funding gap in deprived areas and allow universal credit to go straight from the government to providers.
- Long-term steps – They must establish an independent early years commission and lead a campaign to champion the work of childcare practitioners.
Certainly seems pretty sensible to us.
But that’s not all. This month we also had the Early Years Alliance’s Fair Future Funding Week, coinciding with Ceeda’s latest Counting The Cost report. Their figures now suggest a £662 million funding gap, while their survey reports that nurseries in England’s poorest areas are twice as likely to face closer that those in affluent areas. 11% of all settings lack confidence they’ll be trading in a year and 50% are reducing staff training to save costs.
3. Recruitment struggles now a ‘full-blown crisis’
That’s according to NDNA CEO Purnima Tanuku, after their annual Workforce Survey produced some pretty worrying figures, including:
- The proportion of staff qualified to level 3 has fallen to just 52%, threatening a drop in the quality of provision.
- There’s been a 16% jump in unqualified staff from 10% to 26% compared with last year.
- Staff turnover is at 24%, compared to the UK average of 15-18%, and 48% of those leaving the sector are leaving for better pay in retail.
- One in five providers say they’re taking on more apprentices due to funding pressures.
+ This news made it a perfect time for us to write our latest marquee piece on early years recruitment. Along with the data from Ceeda and NDNA, we spoke with Kindred Nurseries CEO Ruth Pimentel, and Acorn’s Kieran Glackin to work out how the bigger groups are approaching this crisis. You’ll learn about how they still recruit in the tough climate, and what we can all do to improve the situation in the sector. Read it here.
4. Big contract for phonics training provider
The government have awarded the contract to run the new English hubs training centre and network of English hubs to a leading commercial phonics provider.
The centre will train and advise teachers to work in the local hubs, promoting best practice and supporting local settings and schools.
But the government has come under fire for awarding the contract to a company run by Ruth Miskin, who devised the controversial Read Write Inc phonics programme. They will run the centre in association with I CAN and the National Literacy Trust as well as five other phonics training providers.
While many recognise the importance of phonics, a number of figures have questioned the decision, saying that it could lead to a phonics-only approach in many schools, which isn’t sufficient for well-rounded reading development. David Reedy from the UK Literacy Association says the announcement is severely lacking in a focus on comprehension, which he says is the primary purpose of reading.
5. The month in child development
Here are the studies worth paying attention to from the last month:
- Phonics, songs and nursery rhymes can help children develop maths skills according to this study from Liverpool John Moores University. It’s part of the Liverpool Early Number Skills Project, which recently observed more than 200 children across 40 early years settings.
- Children who were read to before they started school perform better in maths tests at the age of 12/13 according to this German study. Another study showing the crucial importance of a positive home learning environment on attainment.
- Reminding children of their different roles can help problem-solving, as the subtle change of mindset allows them to approach problems differently. Reminding children they are brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, neighbours or friends can help to think more flexibly, according to this study from Duke University.
- Brain expenditure could be linked to child obesity, as the energy used could vary wildly, impacting weight gain. With a 5-year-old’s brain using nearly half their body’s total energy, small variations in brain activity may lead to children spending or storing more calories.
- Fathers who spend time on non-workdays playing with their children develop the closest relationships when compared to simple caregiving tasks, or time spent with children after work.
6. A new curriculum for Wales
A new Welsh curriculum has been unveiled, with a focus on providing experience-rich learning.
The Foundation phase is to be replaced with a new curriculum that covers children from 3-16, and is out for consultation until the end of July. It will be phased in from september 2022.
The traditional curriculum areas will be replaced with six Areas of Learning and Experience, which are:
- Expressive arts
- Health and wellbeing
- Science and technology
- Mathematics and numeracy
- Languages, literacy and communication
Religious education will also be mandatory from the age of three, although it is clear this must include non-religious beliefs too.
Broadly, the new curriculum has been well-received, with its focus on enabling teachers and practitioners to decide the best approach to support individual achievement, although this comes with some concern that big investment in training will be needed.
+ The timetable for the revised EYFS has been announced, with schools allowed to adopt the revised ELGs a year before early years settings in September 2020, while the revised EYFS will become statutory in September 2021.
7. Best articles from around the web
Our new section featuring some of the best stories and opinion pieces makes a comeback this month. Here’s a selection of thought-provoking ideas:
- Sue Allingham writes all about labels in the TES, asking whether placing ‘challenge labels’ in our continuous provision is really enhancing learning, or capping it by reducing children’s agency.
- Speaking of Sue, check out our breakdown from the Famly Sessions event we ran in Manchester last month, featuring full-length videos of Sue talking about next steps, and the EYA’s Richard Knight discussing the importance of play.
- The Guardian ran a piece this month on whether pets should be kept in classrooms. On the one side, animal charities argue classroom environments are not a good home for a pet, while many schools say they teach children about the natural world. What do you think?
- We loved this story about how Barnet Early Years Alliance used their EYPP funding to buy back time for the children. Their Talking and Drawing project gave children a chance to sit down one on one with a skilled Early Years Teacher, to explore their creative side and hold deep conversations.
- And finally, if you haven’t seen it already, check out our two-part series with Kathy Brodie on one of her favourite topics, Sustained Shared Thinking. Part one explains the theory behind the practice, while part two gives you insights on how to encourage more of it in your setting.
8. The business bit
It’s been a huge month for nursery acquisitions and expansions. Here’s the rundown:
- Eduko Education rebrand to Kindred Nurseries and add six settings
- Bertram Nurseries acquire five-setting Enchanted Forest group
- Secret Garden Nursery add third setting and Kids Planet secure setting 39
- Safari Kid open nursery number six, Cherubs Nurseries grow to 13, and Kids Planet get £6.5m investment
- Christie and Co. release childcare market overview report – demand remains high
9. Get involved
A few ways you can have your voice heard this month:
- The DfE are putting out a call for evidence on the funding arrangements for young people with SEND. They want to reassess how they provide funding, meaning every response could help to secure betting SEND funding in the future.
- The GenderEYE project run by Lancaster University are asking for providers to answer their survey on why the sector is struggling to recruit, support, and retain male staff.
- EY settings are being urged to sign up to a new charter protecting boys who are the victims of sexual violence.
10. In other news
+ Tops Day Nurseries have started using reusable nappies in their settings, and are encouraging others to do the same in order to reduce the almost 3 billion nappies thrown away every year.
+ There’s a new children’s literature laureate. Cressida Cowell is the author of the Emily Brown Picture books as well as the huge How to Train Your Dragon series.
+ They might not have secured Kylie Minogue, but these children in Bristol created their own mini Glastonbury, complete with stages, wristbands, and portable loos.
+ A new nursery in Milton Keynes is calling itself the first gymnastics-focused setting to open in the UK, with beams, monkey bars, vaults and a giant foam pit.
+ This adorable clip of a father and son babbling away to each other sent us into cuteness overload…
+ Children at Petersfield Infant School broke an unlikely world record this month, with 251 of them bringing in their favourite soft toy for a huge cuddle-a-thon.