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Early years organisations are ramping up their efforts to ensure that early education and care is high up on the political agenda. Here’s what the sector has to say.

The early years sector hit back at Labour last week, after Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, commented that ‘primary schools are the best place for nurseries’ during a live interview on Sky News to promote his election campaign.

As part of its election manifesto, Labour says it would spend £140 million converting spare classrooms into nurseries at 3,334 primary schools, which equates to around one in five of all primaries taking on a nursery. The provision would be delivered by primary schools themselves, or by local private or voluntary sector nursery providers.

National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said the comment was ‘extremely disappointing’ given the PVI sector delivers 86 per cent of the total number of early years places.
But Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson was quick to offer reassurance to the sector with a response issued through Early Years Alliance (The Alliance) which stated, ‘I, Keir and the Labour Party recognise the hugely valuable contribution the PVI sector makes to the delivery of early years education and care for children and families and the importance of this to providing the best start in life for all our children and enabling parents, especially mothers, to have choices about their employment.’
She said that she has seen ‘positive examples across the country’ of school-led nurseries and those delivered in partnership with PVI providers and wants to reassure the sector that Labour ‘wants to work with and include them in this expansion of early years provision’.
If Labour wins the next general election, she said it will launch a ‘comprehensive early years strategy developed through engagement with the sector and building on the work of David Bell’s early years review’.

Speaking to Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant and Then Screwed, about the workforce and retention crisis, Phillipson acknowledged it’s a ‘big challenge’ and said that an early years strategy, to be published in the ‘first year of a Labour Government’, would focus on professional development for staff and workload, although more details have yet to be released.

While early years providers have raised concerns about schools being the right environments for babies, the National Association of Headteachers’ (NAHT) snap poll of 50 schools found that among the 13 leaders not interested in opening nurseries, concerns about early years funding, a lack of staff and the cost of doing so, were most prominent.

Other party pledges

The Conservatives, meanwhile, will continue to roll out the childcare expansion plan, which is estimated to see all eligible parents of children from nine months old to school-starter age be able to access 30 hours of funded childcare a week from September 2025.
It will also increase hourly funding rates over the next two years by £500mn and the sector will be supported to hire more staff. It will invest £300mn in wraparound childcare for parents, and a Family Hub will also open in every local authority in England.
The Liberal Democrats pledge to give disadvantaged two-year-olds an extra five free hours of early years education a week, as another step towards a universal, full-time entitlement for all two-to-four-year-olds. They have also said they would develop a career strategy for nursery staff, including a training programme.

Sector Manifestos

The Alliance reiterated that whoever forms the next Government ‘must recognise and value all PVI providers, wherever they are based, and will continue to work to ensure and respect the range of provision that already exists in the sector’.
In its manifesto, it calls for an ‘emergency financial rescue package’ for early years providers followed by a wholesale review and overhaul of the current system, with a focus on ensuring adequate funding for the sector.

Its vision for the future of early years is one where ‘early education and care is recognised as a fundamental part of the education system, supported by the wider child and family support services, including family hubs, children’s centres, baby and toddler groups and health visitors. It is one where families have a clear pathway of support, both practical and financial, from pregnancy through to the start of school.
‘It is one where the critical importance of the first five years of a child’s life is recognised, and where meeting the needs of the child, and the value of supporting each unique child, is placed at the heart of government policy.’

Speaking to ITV news about the need to develop a comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy for the sector, chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘I’d like somebody to take early years education and care seriously. It’s not just about getting parents back into work. This is about creating citizens for the future. Frankly, the sector was struggling to cope before the new entitlements for parents was announced.’

Rescue and reform

The Early Education and Childcare Coalition (EECC), a group of 30 organisations in the sector, is calling on all political parties to prioritise childcare provision and education to ‘rescue and reform’ the sector.
Its manifesto calls on all political parties to put early education and childcare at the heart of their plans for equality, opportunity and growth.
It says that the current early education and childcare system is ‘underfunded, unequal and inaccessible’ to the people that need it the most, and that continuing with the current model is ‘not an option’.

Make the first five years count

The National Day Nursery Association (NDNA) manifestoMake the First Five Years Count, sets out its child-centric approach so the next Government understands how essential this sector is for children’s development and for the economy in enabling parents to work.
It urges the next Government to consult on any plans to use under-utilised school premises to support the delivery of early education and care places (a Labour party pledge). The school-based nurseries ‘must be age appropriate and the plans must be carried out in consultation with established settings and the local community to meet families’ needs’, the manifesto states.

It also outlines the unique challenges facing early education and care providers as they prepare to deliver the second phase in the current funded entitlement expansion. The manifesto also calls on the next Government to launch a national commission into the future of early education and care in the first 100 days of being elected.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA said: “It’s vital that not only the new Government but all those who are elected into Parliament understand the significance of child development and support the amazing work that early education and care providers do every day…
‘The manifesto also makes it clear that the challenges they face are significant, including the workforce crisis and a funding rate that doesn’t cover the costs for the vast majority of providers.
‘These policy principles and solutions must be incorporated in any future government policy which will impact on children, families, the whole sector and the economy,’ she adds.

Critical time for early years

Nursery in a Box works with 500 nurseries, providing them with software solutions for their growing businesses. CEO of Nursery in a Box, Dave Elebert says “the early years sector is vital for our children’s future and our economy. Policymakers must prioritize sustainable funding and collaboration with all providers. At Nursery In a Box, we are committed to supporting nurseries in delivering the best start for every child.”

More information
More details on the political party manifestos can be found here.

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