Labour Party manifesto – education pledges – childcare

Expert reaction to the Labour Party manifesto election pledge of overhauling the existing childcare system and extending the current 30 hours free childcare to all two year olds.

Comment from Sandra Mathers, senior researcher Department of Education, University of Oxford. Sandra is part of the Families, Effective Learning and Literacy (FELL) research group. Her main research interests are the quality of early years education and care, and the relationships between quality and children’s development.
“I’m pleased to see that the Labour Manifesto childcare pledges recognise the importance of quality as well as quantity. We know from research that early education gives children the best start in life when it is of high quality, and that quality matters even more for disadvantaged children. The Labour commitment to a qualified, graduate-led and well paid workforce has a very sound evidence-base behind it: the challenge will be funding improved quality whilst at the same time expanding the offer.”

Naomi Eisenstadt, expert in early years policy and Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford’s Families, Effective Learning & Literacy gave this analysis:

“1. Agree with supply side funding if conditional on better qualified staff and improved wages.

2. Current commitment on 30 hours free.  Not clear if this continues the Conservative policy that this applies only if both parents are in work, or if a single parent, in work.

3. Phase in top up subsidy for further free hours to suit working parents. Not sure how long the phase in would take.  I am against any additional free hours without ensuring current offer of free hours meets quality and qualified staff standards.

4. Again, phase in transition to qualified work force and improved wages:  over what period of time?  Linked to comment above.  Improvements in workforce and quality essential before any more ‘free’ hours.

5. 30 hours free for 2 year olds. Again, as above, no more free hours without ensuring current offer is good enough.  We are a long way from a really good enough offer on current free hours.

6. Agree with paid maternity leave for 12 months.  Was in original 10 year child care strategy, but lost in 2008 crash.

Overall, this is a policy about female labour market participation, not really about child development.  Offers are about more hours and more flexible hours.  Quality improvements are ‘phased in’.

I think Rowntree paper on what it would take is very good.”

Fellow researcher, Teresa Smith, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford Supernumerary Fellowship, St Hilda’s College:

“Naomi rightly emphasises quality provision and a quality workforce. I would ask for oversight by local authorities to be strengthened. Quality measures used by Ofsted are inadequate. See the excellent note on ‘Establishing the effects of quality in early childhood’ by Sammons, Sylva, Hall, Siraj, Melhuish, Taggart and Mathers, Occasional Paper published in March 2017 by Early Education.



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