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Failure to invest in early years for the disadvantaged will create 'lost generation'

'Skewing of resources' risks widening the gap between disadvantaged and their better-off peers, according to study by Labour MP

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The government is spending billions of pounds extra on early years, but less than 3 per cent will reach disadvantaged pupils, a new study has found.

Only £250 million – or 2.7 per cent – of the extra £9.1 billion funding the government has set aside for early years during this parliament will go to the most disadvantaged pupils, says the report A Lost Generation, published by the Social Market Foundation think tank.

The report, written by Labour MP Lucy Powell, also found that:

  • Three in 10 disadvantaged two-year-olds are still missing out on a free childcare place.
  • Twice as many disadvantaged two-year-olds in the most deprived areas are missing out on a free childcare place compared with their disadvantaged peers in the most affluent areas.
  • In 2016-17, 10 per cent, an estimated £250 million, of spending on free early years education for two-, three- and four-year-olds, was spent on childcare rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate” by Ofsted.

“Britain languishes at the bottom of the international league tables when it comes to using early years’ investment to tackle disadvantage,” Ms Powell said. “Far from addressing this, over the next parliament, this is set to get significantly worse with just 2.7 per cent of new money for early education and care dedicated to the most vulnerable children.

“This huge skewing of resources seriously risks a widening developmental gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers at the age of five, creating a lost generation who will struggle to ever catch up.”

Lost Generation findings

The Lost Generation report comes as the government prepares to launch its offer of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents tomorrow.

A Department for Education (DfE)-commissioned  evaluation of the early roll-out of the offer in four local authorities found that there was a “low engagement” of maintained schools. Some were enthusiastic that the offer would help boost enrolments to nursery class.

But others were already working at capacity and offering extended hours would mean reducing the number of places available.

Schools were also reported to have a “limited involvement” in the early phases of the scheme because they were waiting until September to make changes.

A DfE spokesperson said: "Every single child should receive the same high-quality care, support, and protection, no matter where they live. The gap between disadvantaged children and others achieving a good level of development has narrowed since 2013. As of March 201‎7, nine out of 10 childcare providers are rated 'good' or 'outstanding'.

"We are increasing investment in childcare to more than £6 billion per year by 2019-20 – more than any other government and will be investing an additional £1 billion every year by 2019-20."

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