Only 59% of children achieved expected levels, a huge drop from the 72% who did in 2019.
In March, a YouGov report found that only half of children starting care in 2021 were “ready for school”. A third had trouble holding a pencil, while nearly one in twenty were unclean. A quarterback couldn’t follow simple instructions and had trouble sharing or playing with others.
But childcare professionals described the drop in results as “unsurprising”, calling for urgent intervention to prevent the problem from getting worse.
The first five years of a person’s life make a huge difference to the rest. During this vital period, the brain develops more rapidly than at any other time.
Early education can promote such hyperactive growth. But vulnerable children are slipping through the gaps – with the pandemic deepening existing inequalities.
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“There have been increases in relative child poverty rates since 2013/14, particularly in families where the youngest child is under 5, with a concurrent increase in working poverty,” the authors write. report.
“Rising poverty and deprivation make it harder for early years, childcare, health and other services to mitigate its effects and reduce inequalities among children.”
More than a third of UK families with young children live in poverty, with the North East being the most deprived region.
Some communities are particularly affected. According to the report, more than 70% of families with a young child of Bangladeshi origin live in poverty.
Although all three- and four-year-old children are entitled to 15 hours of state-funded pre-school education, disadvantaged families are less likely to access this free right.
On average, the report warns, 38% of disadvantaged two-year-olds are absent.
As the cost of living crisis rages, it’s also increasingly difficult for parents to juggle the demands of work and childcare – with mothers shouldering the biggest burden.
Mothers still assume two-thirds of the care of children under five. Two-thirds of these mothers have paid work, compared to 50% in 1996.
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The Nuffield Foundation has called for an “ambitious strategy” to tackle growing inequality.
The report’s recommendations include reforming services to direct support to the most vulnerable and revisiting parental leave requirements.
The government must also tackle the broader causes of child poverty, the Foundation insists.
“Tackling early childhood poverty includes quality jobs for parents that enable work-care balance, improved social security benefits, and support for parenting and mental health,” the authors write. of the report.
The Early Years Alliance – a coalition of 14,000 childcare providers – called the report’s findings “great concern” but “little surprise”.
CEO Neil Leitch has called for an injection of funds into the beleaguered sector.
“All children, regardless of background, should be able to access quality pre-school education,” he said.
“Early educators worked incredibly hard to address the inequalities highlighted in this report, but they themselves need support to be able to continue to do so.”