Early Years provision is considered to cover the years from birth to five. In England, all four year olds have been entitled to a free, part-time (15 hours a week for 38 weeks) early education place since 2000, and all three year olds have effectively been entitled to a free place since 2005. Free early education for disadvantaged two years olds was introduced in September 2014. The percentage of families taking this up varies across the country as was shown in a recent parliamentary question. Much of the consideration of early years involves consideration of the costs of childcare, a report in 2013 set out the then Government policy. This commentary is focused more on the educational aspects of early years provision.
The Early Years Foundation Stage was legislated in the Childcare Act 2006 and came into force in September 2008. It is designed to set the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five years old. In 2011 the Tickell review into the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) recommended the creating of a revised EYFS which was more flexible and more accessible. Arising from this a revision of the requirements for the Early Years Foundation stage was published in March 2014. The revised framework included a requirement for assessment at age two and a requirement for a profile for five year olds before starting reception. The requirements were introduced from September 2014. Early years settings are also required to assess progress.
Sure Start was set up by the Government with the aim of achieving better outcomes for children, parents and communities. The first centres were established between 1999 and 2003 for families with children up to the age of four living in disadvantaged areas. The aim was to bring together early education, childcare, health services and family support. From 2005 to 2006, fundamental changes were made as the centres came under the control of local authorities and were operated as children’s centres (CCs). An evaluation of Sure Start was carried out by Birkbeck College.
In January 2011 Graham Allen MP published a report, commissioned by the Government, on the need for early intervention schemes focusing on the first three years of a child’s life. His second report in July 2011 set out how these schemes could be cost effective. In 2012 the Nutbrown review called for changes to qualifications to ensure a competent and confident workforce. In 2013 the Education Select Committee produced a report on Sure Start which criticised some aspects of Government policy – in particular the need for more clarity of purpose. It made 30 recommendations. A Government response to the report was published in March 2014. A report for the Sutton Trust in 2014 by the early years group at Oxford University reviewed the research on education and care for 0–3 year olds. The authors made several recommendations, including for adult child ratios to remain low and the need for qualified staff. In March 2014 the DfE set out its priorities for research into early years education. Also in March the Education Endowment Foundation produced an Early Years Toolkit setting out what sort of help makes a difference to progress, making the point that parents can make a big difference. In January funding was announced to encourage teaching schools to work with local nurseries.
A Statistical First Release (SFR) in October 2014 reported teacher assessment of children’s development at the end of the EYFS (the end of the academic year in which the child becomes five). It reported that 60% of children at the end of the academic year 2013-2014 had achieved a good level of development compared to 52% in the previous year. Another SFR in the following month analysed the results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile by gender, ethnicity, eligibility for free school meals and special educational needs, English as a first language and month of birth at national and local authority level. It reported significant differences between ethnic groups and, unsurprisingly, between children born earlier or later in the year.
An SFR in June this year (2015) reported on the provision of early years education for those under five years of age: 94% of three year olds and 99% of four year olds took up some form of early years education.
The provision of early years education for two year olds featured in the run up to the 2015 election with different promises made by the parties. A debate about the nature of early years education in nurseries and with child minders has occupied a lot of column inches with a focus on the baseline assessment plans. Schools are now preparing to use the reception baseline assessment. Material for this has to be bought from an approved provider. Schools will be reimbursed for this. This will be the only measure used to assess progress for children who start reception in September 2016 and beyond. Key stage 1 assessments will remain statutory but will not be used for the progress floor standard of all-through primary schools. The progress of pupils starting reception in September 2016 in all-through primary schools will be measured in 2023 when these pupils reach the end of key stage 2. Schools that choose not to use an approved baseline assessment from 2016 will be judged on an attainment floor standard alone.
In July 2015 Ofsted produced a report on early years provision. It reported that 85% of early years settings had been judged good or outstanding. However concern was expressed that many parents of two year olds had not taken up the offer of free provision.