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Early years inequalities in the wake of the pandemic

What’s on offer?

This online event, chaired by Carey Oppenheim, will start with a presentation of some of the most recent evidence available on inequalities in the early years of childhood and the impact that the pandemic has had and is likely to have on them. The presentation will be followed by a debate between various early years policy experts about how best to address inequalities within the current spending envelope. 

What’s it about?

There are important inequalities in the development of children well before they start school. By forcing nurseries to close and dramatically altering the lives of most families with young children, the pandemic may have exacerbated existing inequalities and possibly created new ones.

Who’s leading the event?


  • Sarah Cattan, IFS
  • Ryan Shorthouse, BrightBlue
  • Eva Lloyd, University of East London
  • Rebecca Montacute, The Sutton Trust

Open to

Anyone interested in finding out more about what we can do to reduce inequality.

Early years inequalities in the wake of the pandemic

Video transcript

hello everybody um i'd really like to welcome you all to this seminar today um and to our expert speakers and panel and we have here dr sarah catton dr ava lloyd ryan short house and dr rebecca montecute and i'm delighted to be here at this 2021 festival of social sciences with the ifs to share what is a really important discussion on early years inequalities in the wake of the pandemic i'm kerry oppenheim i work at the nuffield foundation leading a project called the changing face of early childhood which explores how young children's lives have changed over the last 20 years and what the research suggests about policy and practice priorities to improve young children's lives so this is super useful for me and i hope it will be for you and prior to that i was the first chief executive of the early intervention foundation which some of you all know now is absolutely the right moment to be having this discussion families with young children are stepping back into some aspects of normal life that were prior to the pandemic um many but fewer are back in early years settings and in reception seeing wider family and friends but doing that with the legacy of a huge disruption in their learning their communication skills their emotional well-being and for some financial insecurity since the pandemic broke and we are and they are still facing great uncertainty and anxiety in terms of public responses to covid babies and young children have not been in the limelight and we've had a decade of where there's been substantial reductions in fronting for families with children with young children in particular but the recent budget has announced some important steps forward investment in child care and early years entitlements and the best start for life and family hubs issues that we might return to in the discussions um the task we've been set today is how to best address early childhood inequalities within the current spending envelope so we thought we'd experiment and do a quick before and after poll on what you think the government's top priority to address early is an inequality should be so you'll find the link to the poll underneath the video on the website and youtube and if you haven't already voted please do so during sarah caton's presentation and we'll reveal the results of the before poll before we go on to the panelists and have our wider conversation so our first speaker is dr sarah catton known to many of you she is associate director and co-lead at the education and skills sector at the institute for fiscal studies her research focuses on the role of human capital and educational policy in reducing inequalities during early childhood during the pandemic she's run a real-time study on children's home learning experiences and she's currently working on a project looking at the impact of the pandemic on the child care market so over to you sarah thanks very much gary um thank you for this introduction [Music] so in this short presentation i'm going to provide some background for the discussion to come about how to best tackle early inequalities in the wake of the pandemic i'm going to briefly summarize some of the evidence to date on the impact of kovid 19 on the lives and development of babies and young children and this really will not be an exhaustive review of the evidence nor even exhaustive discussion of all the issues we need to consider but rather a chance to outline some of the key dimensions through which the pandemic has affected young children and given the theme of the events on inequalities in the early years i will pay particular attention to the ways in which the pandemic has affected young children from more endless advantage backgrounds in unequal ways and discuss implications of that for uh inequalities in their early development so we wouldn't be discussing this topic if we didn't believe that early childhood was a key period for the development of children there is much evidence to show that during the first five years of life children are particularly sensitive to the experience and the environments that they are exposed to and these experiences are very much shaped by the family by the home environment but also by experiences outside of the home uh for example in formal child care and education and the nature and quality of these experiences during those formative years are important for building children's school readiness and more broadly for helping children fulfill their potential throughout their lives and so for these reasons the early years are often seen as a period of great opportunity but also a period of great vulnerability for those children exposed to poor unsafe and already more disadvantaged environments these inequalities in children's experiences early on are thought to play an important role in driving the gaps in development that we see between children for more and less advantage backgrounds these gaps emerging very early on and very much existing before the pandemic hit so this disadvantage gap or the developmental gap between more and less advantaged children has been documented in many ways i know this point all this evidence really points to the fact that it is substantial for example data from the department of education in 2019 um collected on pupils at the end of reception shows that disadvantaged pupils those eligible for free school meals were four and a half months behind this their non-disadvantaged counterparts and this gap uh increases with the age and in the two decades before the pandemic um there were signs in the late 2000s early 2010s that actually this disadvantage gap was uh starting to shrink but actually since 2017 there have been indications that it started increasing again so it is very much against this background of high inequality and potentially widening inequalities that the pandemic hit and brought radical changes to the lives of babies young children and their families and many argue that those changes will widen those inequality have widened and will continue to widen those inequalities further without urgent action so the pandemic combined a public health crisis with an economic crisis and together these created a radical shock to every aspect of young children's ecosystem starting with their families and extending to their care and education system and so in the rest of the presentation i'm going to reflect on the many ways in which coving 19 has affected families with young children and the care and education system and how it's affected them how it's affected young children unequally you will notice for example that i will not talk uh much about the health system and how that has been disrupted for young children um but this is obviously a very important issue in its own right so first focusing on the impact of kovid on families kovid has had a health impact a social impact and an economic impact in terms of health although the effects of the virus have been reported to be fairly mild for most young children many of whom are actually asymptomatic the risk to carers is greater especially older ones and especially individuals with prior health issues who on average tend to be more concentrated in disadvantaged households in terms of the social impact so for many months social distancing measures that have been introduced to contain the spread of the virus have disrupted family routines and prevented much of the interaction that children would have with friends and extended family and including informal child care arrangements then the economic impact obviously cannot be understated so by shutting down entire sectors of work and disrupting work arrangements the pandemic has created a massive economic shock leaving many families especially low income ones with lower income and greater uncertainty about their future earnings and employment having children at home for longer because of school and nursery closures has also increased expenditures on items such as food and heating and those have been most difficult to bear for poor families with young children so reductions in income combined with increases in expenditures have meant increases in food poverty among low-income families and less income to spend on children's education and development and even if policies such as the inferno scheme have prevented many families from experiences more drastic changes to their income in the short term the pandemic has still created a lot of job in security which some argue have just as damaging consequences on families as job loss so all these changes have created many new sources of stress for parents and there is much evidence that parental mental health has worsened especially among low-income families but children as a result of these changes have also been spending more time with their parents for some it may have allowed for more opportunities for play and bonding between children and parents but for other families it may have been an additional source of stress among the many other worries created by the pandemic so while overall we would expect the experiences of the pandemic for families to have been quite varied with relatively mixed consequences for child development families where parents were in low paid jobs and living in more precarious conditions before the pandemic have certainly been hit the hardest putting the development of their children at the greatest risk now turning to the education and care system for young children the pandemic has also completely shaken up that system during the first lockdown between march and may 2020 nursery nurseries were closed for most children and even if they reopened faster than schools did and never closed again nursery attendance drastically dropped in the earliest phases of the lockdown and uh it has not recovered to free pandemic levels um to date and insights about this can be gained from various sources of data so um there is data on the number of children age zero to four attending earlier settings um that was collected by the department for education on this slide i showed the proportion of all zero to four year olds attending an early year setting between april 2020 and may 2021 and as you can see obviously that proportion very much dropped uh very early in the pandemic and it has sort of slowly picked up with the dip again you know during the third lockdown but still as of at the end of this graph so may 2021 it was still below the estimated pre-pandemic level and actually the latest estimates from the dfe as of november 2021 suggest that still one out of 10 children expected to attend an earlier setting um is not we can also gain some insights about the groups of children that are more likely to be missing out on their early education by looking at how the take-up for different free entitlements has been changing among eligible groups so as you know the free entitlement for two-year-olds is an entitlement of 15 hours of free care for the 40 most disadvantaged two-year-olds in contrast the three and four-year-old entitlement is an entitlement to 15 hours of free care for all three and four year olds and so on this graph you can see that the take up of these entitlements uh among eligible populations um was lower in january 2021 than it was in january of the five previous years but we can also see that the drop in the take-up of um is is much more pronounced for the entitlement of the two-year-old uh of the for the two-year-olds than for the three and four-year-olds and so this would suggest that um disadvantaged children are the ones to be most likely to be missing out on their early education and care uh as a result of the pandemic and this may be particularly problematic for inequalities in their development given that um these are the children that are often argued to benefit the most from a high quality early education outside the home so there are various reasons why this may be the case those reasons having to do with both the demand for child care and the supply for child care being affected by the pandemic in the current project on the impact of kovid on the childcare market that i'm conducting with eva lloyd and several other researchers we're actually trying to investigate what are the determinants of these changes in childcare attendance so far the evidence we have gathered would suggest that the demand for childcare is affected by the public health situation corroborating some other evidence that parents actually respond to their perception of the risk associated the risk of infection associated with sending their children to nursery obviously another big factor is the parental economic situation and we see uh in the analysis that we've conducted that attendance is lower uh in areas with higher fuel rates and unemployment rates and so going forward given the uncertainty about the economy economic recovery and the possibilities of further lockdowns it may be a long time until attendance go back to pre-pandemic levels especially in more deprived areas of course this depressed demand is having consequences for providers and increasing financial pressures on providers some of which had already been present very much so before the pandemic so if for the moment we haven't seen massive numbers of nurseries shutting down following the pandemic there is evidence that closures may have been happening more at least in rural areas the pandemic has also been reported to have had detrimental effects on nursery workforce morale and mental health and this will contribute to exacerbate difficulties that nursery leaders already had in recruiting and retaining quality stuff so while it is too early to tell what the long run impact of coving 19 will be for the babies and toddlers of the pandemic the picture we have painted so far would suggest that it may widen inequalities in the development of children between those coming from more and less advantage backgrounds because of the pandemic the main measure of school readiness the early years foundation stage profile was not collected four cohorts [Music] uh um finished their reception here in 2020 and 2021 so we don't have a consistent series to look at how school readiness has changed at least on this particular measure but there is emerging evidence coming from other indicators of child development that would suggest that there has been already a detrimental impact of the pandemic on child early child development so for example data collected as part of the healthy child program uh on indicators of development at age two to two and a half shows that the proportion of children at or above the expected level of development was lower in 2021 than it was in 2019 with the greatest declines being around communication and language of children and personal social and emotional development of those children several surveys of parents school leaders nursery leaders are also also showing increased concerns about the development of young children and their school readiness for example this study from the education endowment fund shows that concerns among school leaders back in september 2020 suggested that particular concerns around the communication and language development of young children and around their personal social and emotional development so this uh emerging evidence creates obviously cause for a serious concern that the pandemic will widen socioeconomic inequalities in the early years and this will obviously have knock-on effects for schools who already have their hands quite full dealing um and helping children who were in school when the pandemic hit catch up on their learning uh the extent to which these effects will be mitigated will obviously depend on the practices and interventions all the new uh that are put in place in nurseries schools and through the welfare system really to help families recover from the crisis it will also depend on the speed at which children may be able to catch up from the learning they have missed during this time and as you will have noticed a lot of the issues i have discussed in this presentation in relation to early years inequalities are not new and in many ways the pandemic has only exacerbated them and made the policy response even more pressing but in some ways the pandemic has created also some new challenges and so in thinking about this and this raises the questions of whether old ideas to tackle the inequalities are still relevant and how they need to be adjusted to address those new challenges brought by the pandemic thank you thank you very much um for that sarah and and it's really um illuminating and and worrying and and we'll come back to to some of those issues that you've raised in our discussion and shall we have a quick look at the um poll um greg if you could share um uh what people's initial view was of their their priority okay so let's just have a quick look um i'm just trying to get my screen up okay so it looks as if um uh so the sort of top priority is is interestingly by making early education and care free for disadvantaged children from the age of one i mean we're not talking about huge differences and then followed by by quality so thank you very much for that we will um come back to that i mean it's it's it's 30 i think 37 of you participated so um but it's very useful to have that insight and we'll come back to you um uh at the end so let me now introduce um our second uh uh a second speaker and first pass um dr eva lloyd and she is a professor of early childhood at the university of east london and visiting professor at the university at university college london at uel she's also director of the international center for the study of the mixed economy of child care and eva's research focuses on the marketization and privatization of child care and its relation to its relation to child poverty and social exclusion she's also currently involved in a research project looking at the impact as a pandemic on the child care market so many thanks eva and over to you thank you carey we know that early childhood education and care provision has the greatest benefits for children growing up with disadvantage so the emerging findings from the study the sarah that sarah and i are both working on about the various impacts of the pandemic on the attendance of children of young children in early year settings and the reduced take-up overall are particularly worrying and of course those are addressed in sarah's conclusions and i would like to take this opportunity to make three points i uh i will try very hard to that to make those points relate to being within the current spending envelope i can't promise but i hope to displace them from financial pragmatism here and first of all i want to say that of course the participation of disadvantaged children in early years prevent provision pre-pandemic was already hampered by pre-existing structural problems with the system a marketized system and carrie oppenheim herself and nathan archer recently described that as a dysfunctional market failing those that need it most i couldn't have put it better myself and they say that in one of the reports have just come out from the novel foundation the role of early childhood education and care in shaping life chances so it's a mixed market of private for profit private not-for-profit and public providers and within that market over half of places are delivered by the private for profit chains and note that as far as the early education entitlement is concerned two and three more you know by far the majority of two and three-year-old children get their early education within that market a study also funded by the nuffield foundation in to the nature of that market is about to be published it's the report is called acquisitions mergers and debts the new language of child care and i'm also a member of that research team so i can tell you the outside i think a root and branch review of the whole system is needed and i've written about that in various places recently and it's also interesting that those pre-existing problems were identified by the national audit office in a report that was published on the 6th of march 2020. now that was a little unfortunate perhaps because it may not have received the attention it deserved but the report supporting disadvantaged families through free early education contained five recommendations which hone in on a lot of these weaknesses and i want to take you through one of them which says the department should work with local authorities to develop a better understanding of the approaches that work best in increasing take-up of the entitlements by disadvantaged families now that is needed now more than ever of course a well-functioning and an effective early childhood system that meets its objectives does depend on an integration with wider family and public health policies and that's why my first point my first suggestion is that it is an absolute priority that the we introduce a return of face-to-face meetings between health visitors and parents of under fives for the five mandatory health checks and if at all possible for more of course you could say but that will include all families but you know the importance of the role of first midwives and then health visitors in identifying disadvantage and the importance of the health visitor role in signposting disadvantaged families to early years provision and arguing the case for two-year-olds going there for instance now my second point relates to the other side of the package namely the uptake of additional child care hours by working parents for children under two four two year olds and three year olds and four year olds additional to the early education entitlements and my focus is on the fact that the help that the government provides with the fees is done via retrospective payments you know so parental child care subsidies come after parents have paid the fees upfront and have acquired a proof of payment and that goes for parents who get support through tax-free childcare and for parents who get support on the universal credit so let's focus on universal credit well from both cases in 2018 the treasury committee on childcare already said in its report that it was a fundamental flaw in the system it hasn't changed in fact it's got slightly worse because in january of this year the high court ruled that this practice of proof of payment was unlawful it was an interesting case brought by a single mother who once i won the case that she needed no more than an invoice rather than proof of payment otherwise she really couldn't go on working you know if she didn't get her universal credit payments but of course the department for working for pensions appealed and the appeal was hurt in july and the court of appeal decided in favor of the secretary of state for work and pensions the proof of payments had a reasonable foundation and was therefore justified now the crux of the debate the legal debate was around whether this way of paying the money discriminated against women because the majority of single mothers certainly are women but i think the crux of this is that this policy discriminates against disadvantaged families and therefore my second point would be that i think that both hmrc and the department for working pensions should reconsider the proof of payment rule and accept invoices as sufficient for claiming contributions to child care costs at least then on the universal credit so reinstate the original high court judgment now i know providers may not like this but i think there are risks but not dangerous attached to this change for providers and providers are actually quite well versed in getting rid of parents who run up debts or try to run up debts and this really looking at this matter reminded me again about the change in the proportion of child care support through benefits and the tax system and as compared to the change that has taken place over the last decade in the support to the tax system and the early education entitlements and christine farquharson has written in a brilliant 2019 briefing for the institute for fiscal studies on early years funding and she notes how spending through the tax system was up 85 while spending through the benefit system had fallen by 44 in the last decade this is for me one of the crucial things that needs to be addressed and my suggestion about the retrospective payments is just part one small piece in the jigsaw of trying to address this and my final policy recommendation then goes to tax-free child care which of course is for better-off parents although more and more parents with young families of course are being reduced to having to apply for universal credit and since its introduction in 2017 this has had a very low uptake so officer national statistics told us in 2019 that at that point there were 4.6 million uk households with working parents with dependent children and half of those 2.3 million had one child under 5. and yet by march 2021 only 282 000 families were using tax-free child care that does cover the year in which the pandemic started but it has always remained like that another study from the institute for fiscal studies for hmrc looked at the reasons that might be behind that and cautiously suggested that the tax-free childcare system's complexity and parents lack of confidence with that complexity and so on might explain the low uptake i think it's really urgent that we simplify applications for tax-free credit because they are highly complex and i mean absolutely if i look at those forms they make me hyper ventilate so i think my 10 minutes are probably just about up so i will stop here and say that i look forward to discussing these questions further with you when we have our discussion at the end of the presentations thank you thank you so much for that over um both the surveying of the issues and the clarity and three very practical proposals um about things that we can prove you know improve uh in in the shorter term so we'll we'll definitely come back to it um moving on um ryan uh our second our second panelist is ryan shorthouse founder and chief executive of bright blue uh an independent think tank for liberal conservatism and ryan's research focuses on education and social policy he was previously researched fellow for the social market foundation where he designed innovative policies on child care public service reform higher education and health ryan's also senior visiting fellow at king's college london and a trustee of the early intervention foundation where we had quite close concert and the daycare trust and so ryan over to you and thank you great thank you carey and um and thank you for introducing me and inviting me to speak um here today on a very important topic because i think the political focus has definitely been amongst covered learning loss amongst school children and we now have good evidence around that two to three months on average the learning loss and particularly affecting deprived children and younger children um and the government also has you know a solution around that the national tutoring program where they've invested billions in it so kevin collins the education uh commissioner did resign of course he wanted the government to go above and beyond that by extending the school day but my point is this that around school children and the learning loss uh there is an evidence base around it about the extent of the learning loss and there is evidence around the solutions that can help and the government has acted on that that's not the case with the early years although there is of course as we've seen in the ifs presentation from sarah today some nascent evidence around uh that uh learning loss the extent of the learning loss amongst under fives and the healthy child program for example does show that on a variety of cognitive and social outcomes we are seeing a decline in abilities um for two to two and a half year olds over the period 2019 to 2021 so but above and beyond that i do think the evidence base needs strengthening i know there are various organizations trying to do that to look at the impact of covid on learning outcomes and i think particularly for older preschool children looking what the impact is particularly for three and four-year-olds where there is no universal take-up of early years formal child care uh what the impact of nursery closures was on on on their development but also i think just like with school children we need to um for those of us who are passionate about early years need to be presenting a set of remedial actions to help rectify this learning loss just as those um in the school children education sector have been doing so what programs will help uh with catch up covert catch-up how much funding is needed who are the political figures like sir kevin collins for education recovery who will really push for it and we need to think about those programs both for formal child care but also for um you know parental interventions as well and family hubs what sort of initiatives and programs do we need to remedy the learning loss so getting the evidence on the learning loss and then pushing for the remedial policies i think should be a priority for those um in the early years world and and this is crucial because um you know obviously the pandemic has worsened the inequalities in early years but we know they've existed for a long time and we know that for changing the trajectory of child outcomes long term it's not necessarily the only window we shouldn't be deterministic about infancy um you know not not least for parental stress and mitigating that but also there's good evidence for example from sarah jane blakemore at the ucl the teenage years are also a kind of critical window for shaping uh brain development but we do know from the evidence that the early years is the most critical if not the only part leon feinstein's evidence around you know by the age of five child outcomes uh closely strongly correlated with educational outcomes at the age of 26 and obviously james heckman's work um in the us on the kind of complementarity of skill formation the earlier you start the more progress that you get in the long term and considering the evidence around uh the impact of higher education on individual and social outcomes and the impact that the early years has on educational trajectory it for me it's you know this is the most important part of the education process and we should be investing much more in it so above and beyond the remedial measures that i think are needed around covert learning loss what more can help um reduce the inequalities and we've already seen from the ifs presentation today that we did see a reduction in these inequalities in school readiness what the government calls school readiness between 2007 to 2012 and then it's increased again um a little since 2017. um the government admittedly i think seems to have woken up a little bit more in early years um you know after a decade where children's centers have been scaled back and closed down i think wrongly considering there's stronger evidence that's emerged on the impact of children's centers on positive impact on child and parenting outcomes not least from the ifs where people who were participating in children's centers less likely to be hospitalized and obviously that also accrued savings to the health service as well um so after a decade of kind of political neglect i think we're starting to see some turnaround and andrea ledson i think should be congratulated for that through her work around kind of the healthy start review and of course the budget has given more funding for improving early years training for more money for providers to deliver the early years for entitlement uh and also for family hubs which are basically children's centers but renamed and slightly uh a re-prioritization and i think it's great that they're investing in family hub stroke children's centers again i mean it's not just good for children and parental outcomes but also for the leveling up agenda and one part of that is around civic activity and social infrastructure and i think children's centers and family hubs are a major part of that because children are often the social blue they are often a trigger for parents to come together and interact so if you want more civic activity then these sorts of things are really crucial for that so there's good momentum that andrea has created which she deserves praise for i think her focus is very much on the first 1001 days rather than all under fives and i think it's really important as well that we definitely focus on the most evidence-based interventions to supporting uh children in the early years so what can we what what sort of policies might help um strengthen early years now i think there's obviously a range of services and interventions which are crucial i'm going to just focus now on preschool education which is obviously one part of that and and as i said at the beginning for me preschool is not just a service an important service for working parents but is the most important service most important part of the education system and we need to be thinking about that much more so i think there are three uh kind of issues that need tackling affordability quality and sustainability um and on afford on affordability i think admittedly that has been the focus of successive governments as they've widened out the early years for in front for entitlement the number of hours the eligibility made universal credit child care subsidy more generous now 85 percent and also introduced tax-free child care for higher income parents obviously the take-up is quite low with that um but i think that has been very much the focus of the government and my view is that any additional state subsidy should now really be focused on quality and improving the quality of the workforce the not brown review did show that child care remains at low status low paid profession um so what do we need to do to really build up um the the quality and think about that and then finally on sustainability there is a lot of churn in the market lots of new openings lots of uh closings and that's including during the pandemic but that's been going on for some time i think the market is very localized it's very contingent on parental circumstances in a local area therefore it's very difficult for uh providers to achieve a kind of network of different uh child care settings to create economies of scale you know as eve has said a lot of child care providers are in the pvi market but they're very small um you know not many are chains and as such um you know it's it's very vulnerable and fragile and localized the market and and therefore it's hard to have sustainability so what might help so on quality um i would suggest um that the kathy silver evidence suggests that staff qualifications are the most important thing so how do we get talented people into the early years setting how do we make it a place that the most talented educators want to come to liz trust looked at a kind of teach first scheme for early years educators that's gone quiet how can we um revitalize that what can we learn from what was done before to really boost the amount of talent talent coming in what about salary supplements uh the government's got that now for maths and science teachers for school-aged children working in the most deprived areas could we think about salary supplements to attract the best educators into early year settings and then how do we retain and attract good quality staff uh as as well um and you know is worrying for example from the nuffield foundation presenting evidence uh that the average qualification level level three uh has dropped over the last decade amongst the early years workforce how do we build that up again i mean my view is and i know this is quite controversial but the issue around ratios uh my understanding of the international evidence is that ratios just like with school-age children um staff to child ratios that is is less important than staff qualifications and quality within reason of course if you do one uh provide one carer to 50 children then obviously that's a problem um but the uk has particularly strict ratios i'd be up for relaxing those to some extent if providers spend more money on uh retaining and attract attracting high quality staff i think that's something that we should seriously look into considering my understanding of the evidence on affordability i think uh child care could be made affordable overnight to everybody um if we introduce income contingent child care loans just like with uh as students who want to access university this wouldn't replace existing child care support through the early years for entitlement uc and tax-free childcare it would be additional to it it would be voluntary so nobody's forcing parents to take it it would be income smoothing because you would only pay once you're in work and earning above a certain amount and lots of parents are now going into debt already to pay for child care this would smooth the child care costs over a longer period thus making i think more sustainable um and you can design it in a way i think which would be fiscally neutral so if an interest rate was applied to it you could charge higher income parents more to compensate for low income parents who maybe don't meet the salary threshold for repayment and therefore don't pay as much of it back but i would seriously consider it because i think i've done polling on it parents from of under fives across all social groups um tend to be in favor of a majority and would be interested in taking up and also the late tessa jiao when she was running for london mayor really pushed this idea uh as a solution so like i say not to replace existing funding but to be complementary and i think that would make child care affordable uh overnight for for parents which brings me to my final point and i know i'm i'm i'm running out of time so just very quickly on sustainability i think the market the demand for child care needs to be thickened so it's less vulnerable and fragile to local parental circumstances i think child care loans would do that it would make it would make sure that the demand is less fragile but in the end i do think and again this is probably quite controversial we should be moving to compulsory preschool education for three and four-year-olds taking the early years for entitlement maybe for the two-year-olds as well um uh you know i think the school starting age or the education starting age is quite arbitrary i think the evidence is strong enough of it of its impact uh to make it compulsory but of course to do that we need to make it universally affordable and to make sure that there's quality provision everywhere and then we're in that position i do think that we should be moving to compulsory preschool education this is not to undermine stay-at-home parents i would do it for 15 hours a week kathy silva's work seems to suggest that's optimal for child development anything above that doesn't seem to value ad so i would make a compulsory and then of course if parents want to stay at home look after their children there's many more hours above 15 hours a week to do that so there's some policy ideas i think for addressing the inequalities that have emerged from the pandemic and then beyond thank you many thanks ryan for that and plenty of food for thought there um some really interesting proposals that i hope will be able to come back to in the discussion um uh so so thank you for that i'll move quickly on um to um becky um so uh becky montague is a senior research fellow and policy manager at the saturn trust she's authored a number of reports on a wide range of issues related to social mobility and educational inequality including inequalities in the early years the impact of the pandemic on low-income students some paid internships and inequalities and access to higher education so and actually also recently been involved in a which i think you're going to talk about particularly uh looking at options on the 30 hours policy in relation to early years so over to you becky many thanks for joining us great thank you so much and thank you so much for inviting me to speak so i'm going to start to just uh talk through a bit of the evidence that the sutton trust has found in terms of the impact and what we know so far on the impact of the pandemic on the early years and specifically on kind of poorer children and what we can ascertain from that so far from our own research so first off i'd echo a lot of what's previously been said what we've tried to do to add to the evidence for that is we carried out some polling both of parents and of primary schools senior leaders to try to get a better understanding from their point of view of what the impact has been on preschool-aged children so first off as you'd probably guess a lot of parents are really worried about the impact that the pandemic has had on their own children so we found that 64 were worried about their child's development or well-being during the pandemic and then in terms of schools and what schools are seeing we did this polling in june this year asking senior leaders to look back for this cohort of young people that entered reception in september 2020 so had been impacted by the pandemic what were they seeing in terms of school readiness compared to what they would expect in a normal year so we found that over half of them said that fewer pupils were school-ready than what they would usually expect and that in schools with the most deprived intakes this was actually 67 so we need a lot more evidence and a lot of the the future uh kind of research people have already mentioned is going to really add to this and better our understanding on what the impact has been but it does really seem that at the moment there is a you know a big impact in terms of what these schools are seeing and that that impact is unequal and as we would expect for all the reasons talked about at the beginning that families have had really different experiences in the pandemic that the home learning environment will be really different there are good reasons to think that young children from poorer families will have had a larger impact then in terms of what that actually means to the schools going forward those senior leaders are worried about lots of the kind of associated impacts so 59 worried about the increased strain that it could have on teachers over half on the long term impact on children's attainment and 42 are worried about the potential for increased staffing costs to be able to deal with that lack of school readiness as those kids go through the school system so this is something that is going to have an impact likely on these children throughout their time in education so it is really important that we act early to be able to actually prevent that from being a kind of longer-term impact where we can for those children also really importantly the clear majority of the senior leaders that we polled 93 said they felt that more time in early years provision before children start in reception helps to support school readiness and 71 said they felt that it helped considerably so making sure that children have access to as we've heard already that kind of high quality early years provision before they start at school is really important so i'd absolutely echo the points that ryan made previously about this generally not being as much of a political issue so far is what we've seen in schools and absolutely agree that it should be something that is really being thought about um in part of the pandemic recovery and i'd like to make a case for why i think the 30 hours is a really good place to do that um partially because of the age range we're talking about three and four-year-olds that those are people who over the next few years today's one-year-olds two-year-olds three-year-olds will be going through that system if you changed it at this point and where those very young children have been impacted by the pandemic that is the point that we have the opportunity to make a change whereas if you were to do things say in changing provision for today's one-year-olds quite quickly you'd be getting to the point where you're not having fingers crossed depending on what happens with the pandemic next people that have had those really kind of severe pandemic impacts going through the system but also because the current that yowa policy is just simply very unfair in terms of who's able to access it and so at the moment for those who aren't aware when young children are two years old they are able to access if they're from a disadvantaged family 15 hours of early education child care per week so that is us as a society recognizing that those young people live in challenging circumstances and it would be beneficial for them to have additional hours but then when we get to the ages of three and four that focus shifts so rather than disadvantaged children getting more hours they are actually now able to access fewer hours because of the 30-hour entitlement and the way it's designed so there are requirements around working families for people being able to access it they have to meet certain criteria around their working hours and i'm going to give another shout out to um christine from the ifs who did the economic modeling on this but she found from looking at who's able to actually claim the entitlement in the existing criteria that just 20 of families in the bottom third of the earnings distribution are eligible for the existing entitlement so we wouldn't accept this for schools we wouldn't say that at school age it would be acceptable for the state to provide more hours of kind of funded school time for richer families but that is exactly what we're doing in the early years and we think that that is a major mistake in terms of the evidence to actually make a change for this well first off and obviously this is you know correlation not causation but we know that since the the uh 30-hour entity month was actually brought in the gradual slowing of um and kind of closing of the attainment gap in the early years has actually started to widen out again and we know that there's good evidences has been discussed that time in quality earlier settings is beneficial for children's outcomes now i want to address directly the point that i made in terms of the number of hours and whether or not they are you know more than 15 hours is needed first off the point i'd make for that is that while the kind of headline policy is called 15 hours per week 30 hours per week in reality it's not that many hours because it's only during kind of school term time not the summer holidays so 15 hours per week is not actually 15 hours per week every week of the year and 30 hours per week is not 30 hours every week of the year in terms of the exact number of hours that would be beneficial to be honest we don't have good enough evidence at the moment and i think more research here would be really helpful but we as part of this fast art project conducted a really large literature review looking at the existing evidence and it seems that somewhere between 15 and 25 hours from the over the age of two is beneficial as long as it's of a high quality and that the really negative impacts tend to be seen over 35 hours so in terms of getting us to the majority of children having the same number of hours of entitlement and having an a number of hours that's likely to be beneficial i think that is a really clear case for extending the 30-hour entitlement because it won't actually be 30 hours in terms of what they're accessing per week and also just politically realistically i don't think you're going to get a situation where the government will take away ours from parents who already have them whereas i think you could get a situation where that current entitlement is extended and extended to those poorest families so i think politically realistically perhaps fewer hours would be okay but i just don't see that you're going to get an actual reduction of that in terms of the actual policy so extending and making the 30 hours universal i think would be the best way to go they are already doing this at the moment in scotland it's just about to happen it's like in the process of happening at the moment and i think looking at that and seeing what the impact of that is will be really important now again christine did some modelling to look at the costs of this and there is a lot of uncertainty around this because it depends a lot on take-up and whether or not people take up new entitlements at the same level that they've taken up previous entitlements or not um but on the kind of central scenario that she modeled she estimated that it would cost about 250 million per year to be able to make it universal by 2024-25 so you know that does sound like a lot but to keep in mind that the existing entitlements actually cost 735 million so to be able to bring people into that entitlement it's actually not that large an increase on the existing spend and there are ways to do it cheaper you could just bring only deprived children in and that would cost about 165 million a year again with that uncertainty around the exact amount of the cost um and you could reduce eligibility on the top end so if you brought it down to a per parent cap of 50 000 a year you'd save about 100 million a year so there are ways to make it cheaper but if you did do that i think you'd lose a lot of the benefits first off to kind of just about managing families who really could benefit from this kind of provision but if you extended at the bottom end and cut off at the top end there would be still some of those people in the middle who wouldn't be eligible if we say used the existing uh two-year-old disadvantage criteria but also that you just make it a lot more complicated for families and one thing even within existing funding i'd really advocate that people could do is just make it less often that people have to reapply for the entitlement and that could really help but i think making it universal could be really beneficial to take up as well thank you thank you very much and becky um i we're we yeah we're quite tight for time and we really like to um draw on other people that's really interesting and very useful and interesting to hear um the arguments for for the 30-hour change particularly in the light of the pandemic so just to remind people and do vote um anytime between now and the end of our session and then we'll have a quick look at the poll and please do use um a slider for any kind of questions that you have uh that we can um ask the audience uh uh ask our panelists to respond to um i wanted to um i wanted to just ask um i mean i think ryan you put some some some really interesting and challenging kind of question uh kind of proposals up i'd be interested to know um uh perhaps starting with sarah about how you know how you respond to um the proposals that that ryan has raised in relation to him you know the balance about improving quality some of the the idea around loans in relation to uh trying to improve affordability um and and interestingly sort of the the issue around compulsory provision once we get to a stage that the quality uh that you know if quality is good enough and there is universal provision sarah would you would you just um share any any thoughts that you have yeah i'd be happy to share any sort of immediate reactions like to this uh i thought this uh this idea of the the income contingent loans like was actually really interesting it's very much sort of um you know i think take seriously the idea that you know early education is an investment uh for families to make in their children's like human capital and um that families may be constrained like financially some families are constrained financially from making that sort of investment and this is you know a really important issue and that sort of system i think could uh definitely sort of solve that um i'm wondering if there are examples of countries that um have this sort of system that we could uh sort of learn from one sort of immediate issue i was thinking about and i'd love to hear ryan's sort of um thoughts on that is again around the issue of take-up and whether uh we might again sort of see you know the gaps that we already see um you know between sort of families that are a bit more far removed like so from the system and sort of feeling a bit uh reluctant you know to take on some debt uh for the education of their children and and how we could sort of work around those issues to provide reassurance and to really work on like you know the information that we're providing to these families so that this is a successful policy ryan would you like to respond to that yeah i mean it's very good points um i mean there is internationally there isn't any other examples unfortunately i hope we can be a pioneer but who knows um and then on the second point around um sort of debt aversion amongst their income families which you're right is is a problem um and we need to think very carefully about it i don't want to get massively into the debate around student loans but there is there's obviously evidence showing that if children young people at the age of 18 get the grades they tend to go to university there isn't the debt aversion however there may be debt aversion earlier on which impacts how they view their education trajectory and maybe the feeling that they're not going to go to um university so we do need to be careful about that but of of course what i'm proposing is not a mortgage style loan it's an income contingent loan and therefore if a parent is not earning enough they don't pay it it's progressive in that sense they're protected um but you know i can bang on about that for hours on end but i still get that there will be some sense of this debt aversion and there's problems with that also in the student loan model so we need to think very carefully about how we communicate thank you yes i think it's really interesting about i mean um ava you had you know some points about how to um address some of the issues on how we subsidize child care and and some species in the system that that actually feel like they're quite resolvable um and and so i wonder what is there a way of doing some simplification of the funding of the sort of demand side for child care um that you know could include a look you know a look at loans but also looking at whether we're using the funding in the best possible way because it's highly complex i don't know what um either what you think about that or or others want to respond to well i don't want to repeat my point about retrospective payments i think most well-functioning systems across europe expect parents to to pay income related fees you know although of course within the eu we've now got the recommendation accepted of the child guarantee which will mean that poor children or children at risk of poverty get all their public services free you know and um well we're not in the eu anymore but um but i think that there is something else at that point that ryan made about the the loans which is to do with the way we view the system and we view children within their system you know i think the early childhood education and care system makes a contribution to the public good you know to the well-being of society as a whole and the well-being of the economy and the uh the approach with the loans that does seem to go back to children as entirely a private responsibility of parents you know don't have them if you can't afford them type of things so that's what i'm worried about i do think the system should be more generous we can't easily go back on the fact that a proportion of it is free you know but and in most european countries at least one year if not two are free yes although i mean ryan you make very clear that this is on top of existing payments for for entitlement so i guess it's about balance between public and private uh uh funding of early years in child care but but it's a it's a point well made um i also wanted to um ask you you know um sarah you get this very kind of comprehensive well you know really interesting um uh analysis of the impact of covert on on young children and there was really consensus across the the panelists about and the significance of the impact is there anything else that we should and i think you raised it in your in your last slide sarah is there anything else that covet is thrown up which actually makes us rethink how we should respond are there other particular things about kobit which which actually you know where where the pre-existing things we thought about in response to the challenges of inequalities in the early years are not sufficient maybe becky you might want to start with that i will say one of the things that's concerned us as we're coming out of the pandemic is the number of providers who've ended up closing because of the economic pressure and i think given the importance of the early years there is this question of you know how can you have this system i guess where private providers are able to just end up collapsing if there is some kind of emergency like this or even has been has been talked about kind of local pressures and what does that say to us more generally about how importantly we're thinking of the earlier system that it is able to have that happen but also now how do we address that because it has happened yeah um uh is there some some way of kind of increasing the security for those very wrong particularly for those vulnerable providers and where they are any any other any of you want to come in on very sarah i can see you dean yeah um yeah i just perhaps wanted to go back to something i mentioned quickly um during my during my presentation which is you know this evidence sort of emerging that um maybe the strongest impacts of kovid are on the emotional and um you know social development of children and so although that's always been you know an important like a domain i think of development there has been a lot of focus on like you know academic achievement and sort of school readiness even though school readiness obviously includes emotional social and personal development you know there's been a lot of focus on like you know numeracy and language skills and i think perhaps for older children and for adults the pandemic has i think strengthen the case for uh well-being for caring about well-being for um you know caring about mental health i'm not i don't know if the sort of the policy solutions have already you know been developed enough but i think for you know very young children perhaps i think the pandemic is also um shining some you know new light i think on this very very important uh domain of development and it isn't clear you know i think um that early education and care can completely be the solution uh to this issue it also has a lot to do with what is going on in the home the parent parenting practices and this is where i think we should really be thinking about you know more family support sort of interventions like family hubs uh that have been um you know mentioned in by our panelists you know as playing potentially a very important role uh to strengthen that aspect of child development yes i think that that that really resonates with me and i um and i so i wonder whether um uh how far could family hubs or other sorts of interventions um start to to take a more sort of rounded view um in terms of supporting supporting young children as they're trying to sort of settle into into into the early years or um do other people have have a particular view about what we should be doing if if i may come in i i really think that the issue that has already been raised by ryan about the workforce becomes absolutely crucial because whether it's a children's center or a family hub or a private for profit day nursery it all depends on the quality of the workforce and the lack of turnover and so on whether the children actually benefit from participating in the services on offer so this again in the limits of what we can do here today this is a very big topic but it is absolutely crucial um just an example ireland has just announced in its latest budget and they had a comprehensive spending review as well but it will pay core funding to provide us you know with a specific purpose of raising the pay and conditions of the staff working there you know which is bad like it is here but we are you know across the board we have in the the private sector compared to the schools where the smaller proportion of our children get part of mostly part-time early education two three and four four-year-olds four-year-olds in school um you know we have some of the lowest paid workers in our economy yeah so sort of stability the stability of the workforce is being as sort of as a fundamental uh starting point but then i guess there's an an interesting question about the the kind of range of skills and training and support um uh and and the relationship i think between the early years sector the early early early years in education childcare and what goes on at home but i do think family hubs are potentially depending on how policy develops potentially a way to to do some of those things bring some of the learning from surestart and our time i'm afraid is really vanishing and we've really just begun and i think if i don't um i think we should just go back to the poll to see whether those people have been listening to uh your wise and and i think really thoughtful contributions have have made any change in their priorities so um greg could you share with us both what people said originally and what what they're saying now okay so that's the that's that's what that's what they said at the beginning uh and and show us okay so that's interesting um we've got a clearer yes so we've got more people saying that this very very this this first stage of life uh uh of the children who are disadvantaged from the age of one making early education and care free for this particular group oh it's changing it's changing as we speak is 35 and then the others fall below so it's it's just interesting we didn't talk that much about this oh still changing we didn't talk that much about that very early face but it is interesting to reflect that actually the um the best start the children in andrea andrew edison's work um didn't address child care because that was out of scope and i think there's a real great case for the importance of thinking about how these services work together uh uh whether they're integrated in terms of children's centers or family hubs or just much better coordination and that we think about things across the place it's still changing so i think we're gonna have to stop um uh in terms of the poll i think it's just quite nice to see uh what people's views are thank you um to all of our speakers um i think the thing that stands out very strongly for me is it just is to re to reiterate this this incredibly important phase of life and that then pandemic has um shown us in a sense just how important it is and that we do really need to think about how do we both build the evidence base and elevate uh this in in public debate so that as we think about how we come out of the pandemic we use both our existing tools and new ways of addressing those inequalities those very worrying disadvantages that we see uh happening in terms of children's development at this really critical stage and i think there was you know that seemed to be a consensual view across the piece uh and we'll need further discussions just to decide and and talk about priorities but thank you to all of you and for your time and for the discussion and we'll continue the conversation