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Liz TrussElizabeth Truss is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, and is the Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk. Follow Liz on Twitter.

Last
week, at a seminar on the early years hosted by Frank Field, academic experts presented
a compelling chart. It showed that significant educational gaps in England, far
more so than other top-performing countries, emerge not at age 16 or even age
11. In fact, there is already a significant gap by the age of 5, before
children have started school. This shows why a high quality early education is
so important. And it is especially important for children from low-income
families, who often don’t have the same chances growing up as children from
better-off homes.

How do
we raise standards and close the gap before the age of 5? The evidence is
clear: it’s about people, not process. Professor Cathy Nutbrown has pointed out
that people who cannot themselves master the basics in English and maths can
hardly be expected to teach our young children to read, write and add up
properly. Evidence from the government’s pilot scheme for the early education
programme revealed that 2-year-olds in good or outstanding settings saw tangible
benefits, yet those in poorer quality settings were no better prepared for
school than if they had stayed at home.


These
facts are critical as we set out how the new programme of early education for
2-year-olds from low-income families will work. The evidence strongly suggests
that if we want 2-year-olds to receive lasting educational benefits from the
three-quarters of a billion pounds the government is spending, they should be
placed in high quality settings. Simply doling out places without any regard to
their quality would risk wasting a great opportunity, not to mention taxpayers’
money.

So as we
enrol 130,000 2-year-olds from low-income families into our early education
programme over the coming year, rising to 260,000 in 2014, we must focus on
quality. We want providers to have enough funding to employ staff who will give
these children a high quality education. Our aspiration is that all eligible
2-year-olds are receiving their 15 hours a week in good or outstanding
settings. To this end, we are funding local authorities at an average funding
rate of £5.09 per child per hour, significantly above the market rate of £4.13.

We will
only achieve our goal if these funds reach the front line. Schools and
nurseries need sufficient resources to recruit and retain talented staff, while
the best child-minders will only be attracted by competitive fees. This will be
achieved if providers receive full funding. I am calling on councils to pass on
all funding for 2-year-old places directly to providers. Maximum transparency
will ensure parents and providers can hold local authorities to account for
their funding decisions.

Providers
often tell me that they would like to expand into other areas but find this
almost impossible thanks to the differential rates paid by local authorities. When
I met providers in Leeds recently, they told me some councils paid less than £3
per child per hour for early education for 3- and 4-year-olds, whereas others
paid as much as £5. We cannot expect providers to offer a consistently high
standard of childcare across the country when local funding rates are so varied.
That is why we have calculated allocations for 2-year-old places on a set
national formula, adjusted only for each area’s average costs.

Local
authorities will have the crucial role of raising awareness among parents. They
have a direct interest in doing so as, in future, we will link funding to
participation. Local authorities will receive funding for 2-year-olds according
to the number of families that have taken up the offer in previous years. So
this funding comes with a clear message: use it, or lose it.

We need
schools, nurseries and child-minders to step up to the challenge. Lower quality
providers must raise their game so that they are in a position to receive
2-year-old funding, while high quality providers should consider options for
expanding to meet demand and new providers should offer their services. Ofsted
is launching a new tool that allows people to see which providers are rated
good and outstanding in each area. I want providers to study this information,
identify where provision is patchy, and strive to improve it. If we are to deliver
the high quality early education these 2-year-olds deserve, everyone must all
play their part.

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