A child's life chances have been decided before they have "knotted their tie and fastened their laces" for their first day of school, the childcare minister has said.
Early education gives children a boost throughout their lives, with children who attend pre-school gaining better exams results and likely to earn around £27,000 more during their career than those who do not go, according to Sam Gyimah.
In one of his first major speeches as childcare minister, he called for more schools to "step up to the plate" and offer nursery education. "We know that before they have knotted their school tie, fastened the laces on their shoes and headed off for their first day at school, a child's life chances are already being decided," he told a Policy Exchange event.
"That's how important early education is. It not only sets a child off on the right foot at school, but gives them a boost right throughout their life."
Currently, just under half (44 per cent) of primary and infant schools in England have nursery classes, but only a few hundred take funded two-year-olds – those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
He insisted that schools that do offer nursery places are seeing "big benefits" with better behaved children and higher attainment.
It also makes the move from nursery education to reception smoother for young children, Mr Gyimah argued, and easier for working parents who can drop off children to school and nursery at the same time.
Mr Gyimah rejected critics who say that placing nurseries in schools is "schoolifying" the early years and is too much too soon.
"Listening to some of the criticisms, you would imagine rows of small children lined up in classrooms, sitting in silence and learning about quadratic equations from a teacher," he said.
"But I've seen school nurseries and I've seen the way they are run ... It's not about being taught in the same way as school kids. It's about teaching children to socialise; to play together and to behave."
He added: "Of course we want parents to be confident that the childcare being provided is the very best for their child, preparing them for life in modern Britain. Which is why today, I want all schools to consider the nursery provision they can offer, and why this government wants to work with them to make it happen."
Heads' union the NAHT welcomed the focus on nursery education. General secretary Russell Hobby said: "Increasingly, primary schools will need to see themselves as 0+ institutions. They will need to work in partnership with other providers, including private and voluntary provision to provide a complete offer to families.
“NAHT believes that the government should help by making Qualified Teacher Status available for early years professionals.
"All children in early years should also be entitled to the pupil premium at the same pro rata level as the funding for primary aged children and have the same entitlement to free school meals as infant age children.”
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