We know the importance of starting school at age-related expectations. Sadly, the pandemic has made it even harder for schools to close the gap in that first reception year. Last year the EEF found that the proportion of children in their sample reaching the expected levels in all areas – communication and language, physical development, literacy, maths, and personal, social and emotional development – was 59 percent in 2021, compared to 72 percent for the 2019 cohort. This difference is equivalent to, on average, three more children in every classroom not reaching the expected levels by the end of the school year.
Partnership with parents is a crucial part of how we work at Ark Start and several parents have undertaken the Empowering Parents Empowering Communities (EPEC) programme. Eva Ali, is an EPEC Course Leader and she explained to me: “Now I’ve completed my training to lead my own parenting courses. I feel a big sense of achievement to be a leader in that way. It’s the first time I feel I’ve achieved since becoming a mum. I feel really proud and amazing. The course has changed me – I’m much calmer and more confident in my parenting. And in myself. I talk to other parents outside the nursery now and tell them about the course.”
As well as successfully running settings, we want to drive a national conversation around early years. By combining multiple interventions, working closely with parents to build a shared understanding of their child's development, and professionalising the staffing for early years, it is possible to close the gap that emerges before children start school. We want our work to be the catalyst for change and we are part of a growing coalition of specialist early-years organisations advocating for a new approach to early years education so that the youngest children get the best possible start in life.
In particular, we want to see funding better targeted at those who most need it. National interest in this conversation is growing as increasing numbers of people face challenges accessing affordable, high-quality childcare through the cost-of-living crisis.
We continue to make a strong case for equitable early years funding. We want the government to address the funding imbalance that makes it particularly hard for not-for-profit providers like Ark Start to run nurseries. Research has found that children who attend high-quality settings for two to three years are almost eight months ahead of children who do not attend nursery. All children should have access to high-quality early education and childcare, as we know the difference that can make.