The government lacks direction in its approach to early years education and needs to combat social injustices in the system, the Commons Education Select Committee has said.
In a report published today, the committee said the approach to early years education seemed to have "little strategic direction" and measures such as the 30-hours childcare commitment appear to be "entrenching disadvantage".
Maintained nursery schools are extremely successful at ensuring excellent outcomes for disadvantaged children, the report states. And it recommends that the government commits to fully funding maintained nursery schools by the end of the financial year, saying that they cannot wait until the spending review.
The committee also calls for the government to tackle the social injustices that exist in the system.
Evidence given to the MPs by the Sutton Trust charity suggests the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their richer peers is already in place at the age of five.
The committee says the government should reform the 30-hours free childcare offer and target provision on early education for disadvantaged children. It recommends developing a comprehensive strategy should to join up early years services and build on the success of children's centres.
Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chairman of the education committee, said: "Despite the good intentions and efforts made by the government, there remain significant social injustices in children's life chances in England which early years childcare and education is failing to address.
"Supporting a child in the early years of their life is crucial to tackling social injustice and giving children the best possible chance to succeed."
He added: "It's vital the government reform the 30-hour childcare offer to focus it to help the most disadvantaged. The Government should also ensure that maintained nurseries, who often deliver excellent outcomes for disadvantaged kids, get the funding support they need.
"A strong home learning environment can have a major impact on children's life chances. The government needs to come forward with a comprehensive strategy for early years services, including children's centres and family hubs, to give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life".
The report points out that disadvantaged children spend significantly less time in pre-school than children from more affluent backgrounds.
MPs also said the Department for Education's decision not to fulfil its commitment to conducting the early years workforce feasibility study was "disappointing".
In the report, they urge the Government to justify that decision and either reconsider or provide a suitable alternative.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Whilst the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers at age 5 has reduced since 2013, we know that children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with additional needs can face the greatest barriers in their early development. That is why we are focused on improving children’s early literacy and communication, and why the education secretary has committed to halving the proportion who leave Reception year without these key skills.
“By 2020 we will be spending around £6 billion on childcare support – more than any other government – and we plan to spend around £3.5 billion this year on our free early education entitlements. Through this we are increasing access to early education and childcare, and in the first year of the 30 hours free childcare offer alone, more than 340,000 three- and four-year-olds benefitted from a place.
“More broadly, we are investing more than £100 million in projects looking to improve disadvantaged children’s early outcomes, and are building a coalition of organisations – from businesses to voluntary organisations – that will help support parents with their child’s early language development.”