Sutton Trust: Give all children access to 30 hours funded childcare

The Sutton Trust has published a major piece of research that sets out the case for improving access to early education for the poorest children.  

The comprehensive report examines the impact of the current 30 hours policy; the evidence behind the need for change; and options for reform. It also looks at the views of parents, teachers, and early years providers. 

Its key findings include: 

  • 70% of children eligible for the current 30 hours entitlement are in the top half of the earnings distribution 
  • While total spending on the early years has risen since 2007-08, the profile of spending priorities has changed: subsidies explicitly targeted at low-income families have fallen from 45% of the total then to under 30% ten years later   
  • Almost 80% of early years settings surveyed would favour extending the current offer to disadvantaged children if funding was raised to a sufficient level to meet their costs
  • 40% of providers support making the 30 hour entitlement fully universal. Those working in the most deprived parts of the country were more likely to favour making it universal
  • 75% of early years providers say that current funding provided per hour for the 30 hour entitlement does not meet their costs
  • Over half (54%) of primary senior leaders surveyed said fewer pupils were “school ready” when they started reception this year than they would usually expect, highlighting the need for additional support for these children as we come out of the crisis.  

Jonathan Broadbery, NDNA’s Director of Policy and Communications, said: “Everyone working in early years knows how beneficial it is for children to access high quality early education and care. Increasing the access to funded places could clearly help those who feel locked out and help address the growing attainment gap.

“By supporting children’s development at this stage we can enable them to reach their full potential regardless of their background – and research shows it will improve their life chances and reduce the need for government interventions later in their lives.

“However, as the Sutton Trust acknowledges, it won’t be possible for the nursery sector to deliver this without adequate investment. MPs from the APPG for Early Years and Childcare agree that each child needs an additional £3,000 a year to enable providers to remain sustainable. The chronic underfunding must be addressed if any expansion of this policy is to be successful.

“There must be a step change to the way childcare professionals are valued in order to attract and retain the best candidates – they are vital parts of our national education system.

“The nursery sector is currently in crisis due to years of underfunding and the toll taken by the pandemic. Providers need urgent financial support and a plan for long-term funding to continue offering the high-quality places we want to see for all our children.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Sutton Trust, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation said: “We would not accept the state providing longer school hours for wealthier families,  and nor should we accept it in the early years. If we want to transform our school system  to make it fairer, it needs to begin with giving every child the foundation to succeed at school in the first place. As we ponder ‘building back better’ in our education system, there would be worse places to start.

“But expanding access to provision must go hand in hand with improving quality. Recent government investment in the early years workforce has been welcome, but we need a transformational approach to providing high quality and affordable early education for all. Quality is key for making  a lasting impact to children’s life chances. 

“Today’s report is the result of months of meetings with key organisations, interviews, surveys and number crunching. It evaluates the case for reform, assesses the appetite among parents and providers, and outlines the costs and practicalities of how to implement it.”

The Sutton Trust is calling for: 

  1. Equal access to early education and childcare 
    Access to the 30-hour entitlement should be extended to families on the lowest incomes. This could range from an expansion to those eligible for the two-year-old offer, through to making the entitlement universal. Universality has several potential benefits, including simplifying access for families, providers and local authorities, giving greater financial security to settings, and giving greater confidence to parents seeking to re-enter the jobs market, increase their hours or retrain.  
    An extension to a universal entitlement for all three- and four-year-olds would cost £250 million, an increase in overall spending on the existing entitlements for this age group of just 9%, which would extend eligibility to 80% of children in the bottom third of the income distribution for the first time. 
  2. Better funding for disadvantaged children 
    The government should provide additional funding for disadvantaged children, for example through increasing the Early Years Pupil Premium, so that hours provided are of a high quality and serve the poorest communities. Doing so has the added benefit of providing settings with an incentive to recruit children from families on low incomes, as well as ensuring settings serving the poorest areas remain sustainable into the long term.   
  3. A focus on quality 
    To qualify for the extension, providers should be required to meet certain evidence based quality criteria. Increased funding is also needed, for example a Leadership Quality Fund recommended by the Trust, to improve pay and conditions for staff, so that settings can attract and retain a well-qualified workforce, as well as investment in CPD and career pathways.  

Read the full report here.