Tag Archives: education

The Early Years Conundrum

GK Point of View – The Early Years Conundrum

GK Adviser Felix Griffin assesses the potential battle lines between Labour and the Conservatives in the early years sector ahead of the General Election. 

A Political Football in the Education Arena 

In the ever-evolving education landscape, early years policy has found itself thrust into the centre of a complex and highly contested arena. Incrementally, the situation has worsened over the years, with the ‘cost of living’ crisis and systemic staff recruitment and retention issues taking their toll. Early years policy is now a political football, bouncing between competing ideologies and vested interests. 

There are now clear division lines between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour appears staunchly focused on prioritising comprehensive child development, emphasising a holistic and nurturing approach to early education. On the other side, the Conservatives have pivoted towards viewing the early years as a means of getting parents back to work, shaping their policies with a lens primarily focused on economic productivity. 

With the Conservatives using free childcare as a ‘vote winner’, as previous governments have done, there is concern that the implementation failures that have plagued the sector for so long will persist. 

As the prospect of Labour taking the reins becomes increasingly likely, it stands at a crossroad. The Party is confronted with the pressing decision of whether to persist with a clearly broken framework, risking further erosion of the quality of early childhood education, or opting for the challenging path of withdrawing the current ‘free childcare’ system, potentially facing backlash from parents and stakeholders.  

However, amidst this dilemma, there is a transformative opportunity – to reform the existing system comprehensively. By engaging in strategic overhauls and policy adjustments, informed by its ‘major’ review of the early years sector, Labour has the chance to steer the course towards a more effective, equitable, and responsive early years education system, ensuring a brighter future for the nation’s youngest minds. 

 

GK Insights- Student visas reform

GK Point of View – The impact of student visa reforms

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett assesses the recent student visa reforms, and what they mean for the higher education sector.

With the Government continuing to struggle in the polls, Rishi Sunak has launched a full-frontal assault on the immigration system aimed at bringing numbers down and cutting into Labour’s seemingly unassailable lead. 

Following a record net migration figure of 745,000 in 2022, the Government has undertaken a series of measures to tighten the UK’s immigration system. As they are the largest group of non-EU migrants, international students have come into the firing line. 

In May 2023, the Government introduced new restrictions to student visa routes by preventing international students from bringing family members on all but post-graduate research routes, as well as banning people from switching into work routes until their studies have been completed. These measures officially came into force on 1 January 2024. 

The Government expects this to result in an estimated 140,000 fewer people arriving in the UK. However, with years of frozen domestic tuition fees and reductions to teaching grants stemming from Britain’s exit from the EU, it is unclear whether the UK will retain its attractiveness to international students, the very group who have been covering the sector’s budgetary shortfalls. 

Notably, the Government’s own impact assessment refuses to consider the effects of preventing international students from bringing dependants on all but post-graduate research routes, given the lack of available evidence to determine how many students (who bring dependants) will be dissuaded. On a more positive note, the impact assessment finds that only 2% of total students with an expired student visa would be affected by the ban on switching work routes until their studies had been completed. 

Given the distinct possibility that numbers of international students arriving in the UK drop because of the changes, financial pressure will grow on higher education providers who have made over-optimistic assumptions about future growth in international student numbers as a means of balancing the books. 

As we enter an election year in which the Conservatives will be reluctant to loosen immigration controls, the likelihood that some providers collapse under the financial strain cannot be overlooked. 

 

Childcare and the Early Years: What the DfE’s EYFS consultation may mean for the sector

GK consultant Noureen Ahmed examines the key aspects of the Department for Education’s Early Years Foundation Stage Framework consultation, and what it means for the early years sector. 

Over the past few months, the topics of childcare and early years education have been at the forefront of conversations within the education sector. The range of measures introduced in the Spring Budget 2023, including the significant funding commitment toward childcare provisions does illustrate the Government’s ambition to improve the early years landscape. Overall, the attention that childcare and early years education have accumulated is encouraging and we do expect to see this continue going forward. Nevertheless, it is also important to acknowledge the number of issues the early years sector is currently facing.

The daunting cost of living crisis, which has further exacerbated issues facing working parents and families, alongside the rising cost of childcare, certainly doesn’t alleviate the situation. England is emerging as one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to the cost of childcare. This is evident from a recently published report which found that “a UK couple where one parent earns the average wage and the other earns two-thirds of the average wage spends 29% of their wages on full time childcare.”

Proposals outlined in the Spring Budget 2023 included the expansion of 30-hour childcare to working parents of all children over the age of nine months and additional funding for schools and local authorities to implement ‘wraparound care’. Concerns have arisen over the expectation that the plans aren’t expected to come into effect until 2024/25, although it is important to note that the delays are intended to ensure nurseries are given sufficient time to prepare for these changes.

The Department for Education (DfE) appears committed to understanding the range of issues facing and launched a consultation in May 2023 to examine and scrutinise the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS). This is a mandatory framework for providers ensuring that children ‘learn, develop, and are kept healthy and safe.’ Key proposals outlined in the consultation include:

  • Removing the requirement for Level 3 early educators to hold a Level 2 (GCSE or equivalent) maths qualifications, and instead apply this requirement to managers only.
  • Introducing an ‘experience-based route’ so that otherwise suitable practitioners who don’t hold an approved Level 3 qualification have a path to gaining ‘approved status’ without having to do a new qualification.
  • Changing the qualification requirements for ratios so that they would not apply outside of peak working hours.

The sector has been keen to stress the importance of delivering high quality early years education and care for all children; according to the DfE, the qualification changes are intended to do exactly that, as well as improving flexibility for providers and provide more opportunities for practitioners to join the workforce.

So what might this consultation mean for the sector?

Whilst it is encouraging to see the DfE propose improvements to the framework, it is also important for the Government to make sure it fully understands what exactly the sector is truly asking for. With a range of issues facing the sector, including recruitment issues, inflexibility regarding staff qualifications, and most recently, the Government’s proposal to relax staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds in England from 1:4 to 1:5, there are concerns that this would impose added strain on providers, given their primary purpose is to provide high quality childcare education for all.

Nevertheless, the consultation, which recently came to a close, should have presented an opportunity for nurseries, childminders, providers, and parents to voice their views.

The sector should prepare for a number of changes, namely the plan to remove the requirement for level 3 educators to hold a level 2 maths qualification and changing the percentage of level 2 qualified staff required per ratio in an attempt to boost the workforce and make it easier for people to join the sector. If implemented, these changes would likely be welcomed by the sector as it creates more opportunities for those who have a passion in joining the sector but shy away because they are not currently equipped with the necessary qualifications.

Overall, it is positive to see a heightened focus on the sector, which is expected to continue ahead of the next General Election. The consultation clearly presents a valuable opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to valuing and protecting the Early Years staff while simultaneously ensuring that all children are provided with the support and care they rightfully deserve.

GK are experts in the education policy landscape, if you would like to hear more from our consultants get in touch with noureen@gkstrategy.com.

From National Standards to Digital EHCPs: the future of SEND in England

GK associate, Monica Thompson, provides an insightful analysis of the UK government’s recently published SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan for the future of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in England. The plan proposes a range of policies aimed at fixing a broken system, including several key policies that promise to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools and introduce digital solutions for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). Despite criticism from experts and campaigners over delays and setbacks in the government’s review, Monica discusses how the proposed policies are a step in the right direction to address the urgent need for reform.

On March 2, 2023, the UK government finally published its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan, aimed at fixing the SEND system in England. However, the UK government’s review of the SEND system has been beset by delays and setbacks, prompting criticism from experts and campaigners. This plan proposes a range of policies, including the creation of new national SEND standards and the introduction of digital EHCPs. However, the government’s timeline for rolling out these policies is expected to take several years.

The government will be piloting the new national SEND standards and funding tariffs, along with digital EHCPs and tailored school lists for parents, for two to three years under a £70 million “change programme,” with nine regional expert partnerships taking part in the trial. By the end of 2025, the Department for Education will decide whether to go ahead with the changes nationally, which means that a national rollout might not happen until 2026.

The government’s plan includes a range of proposals to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools, but concerns have been raised over the timeline of the changes. Last year’s SEND Green Paper plans to consult on giving councils powers to direct academy trusts to admit pupils as part of a drive toward a more inclusive system, does not appear in the government’s plan. Instead, the plan focuses on making the process of applying to the secretary of state for a direction to admit a pupil “as effective as possible”.

The upcoming Academies Regulation and Commissioning Review will set out plans to incentivise improvement for all children in all parts of the country, including support for children and young people with SEND who attend mainstream settings.

It is widely acknowledged that the SEND system in England is in need of reform, and while the government’s new national standards promise to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools, many believe that the proposed changes are not happening soon enough.

The following key policies are highlighted in the review:

  1. National Standards: The government will pilot new SEND standards before legislating for them. The standards will be tested in 2022 and will focus on the most deliverable elements of the current system. Legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity to facilitate intervention in education settings if standards are not met.
  2. Accountability: Ministers will design accountability mechanisms to ensure government expectations are met. The standards could set out how schools must adapt physical and sensory environments to enable pupils with SEND to learn alongside their peers.
  3. Digital EHCPs: The government plans to standardize Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) templates and introduce digital solutions to improve experiences for councils, suppliers, and families. The digital EHCPs will be piloted in 2023 before being rolled out in 2025.
  4. Local Inclusion Plans: Local inclusion plans created by local SEND and AP partnerships will be introduced. Tailored lists of settings for children will be tested before legislation is introduced at the next available opportunity to make partnerships statutory.
  5. Mandatory Mediation: Mediation between councils and families will be reviewed. Professional standards for mediators and advice will be reviewed in 2022.
  6. New SENCO National Professional Qualification: The government will procure providers for a new leadership level SENCO National Professional Qualification.
  7. New Special Schools: The government has promised 33 new free schools and is currently assessing applications for new AP schools.
  8. National SEND Tariffs: The government will introduce a national system of funding bands and tariffs to ensure consistent funding.
  9. Alternative Provision Funding: The government will introduce a new funding approach for alternative provision aligned to its focus on preventive work with, and reintegration of pupils into, mainstream schools.
  10. Inclusion Dashboard: The government plans to introduce new inclusion dashboards for 0-25 provision to offer a timely, transparent picture of how the system is performing at local and national levels.
  11. Ladder of Intervention: The government will introduce a new ladder of intervention this year to strengthen accountabilities across all parts of the system.
  12. Alternative Provision Performance Framework: An expert group will support the development of a bespoke national alternative provision performance framework.
  13. Fair Access Panels Review: The government will review processes and develop options for ensuring transparent and effective movement of pupils without EHCPs.
  14. Independent Schools: The government will re-examine the state’s relationship with independent special schools to ensure comparable expectations for all state-funded specialist providers.
  15. Joined-Up Work with NHS England: Integrated care boards will be required to have a named executive board member lead accountable for SEND.
  16. National SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board: The government will introduce a new implementation board to hold partners accountable for the timely development and improvement of the system.

In conclusion, the UK government’s new SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan proposes several policies that aim to reform a challenged system. While the timeline for rolling out these policies may be slow, it is hoped that the trialling of the changes will avoid repeating mistakes made in the past. The upcoming Academies Regulation and Commissioning Review also provides an opportunity to improve support for children and young people with SEND across the country.

GK Insight: What to expect for Education policy in 2023

GK Point of View - What can we learn from the Nordic Model and the Times Commission Report for Early Years_

GK Point of View – What can we learn from the Nordic Model and the Times Commission Report for Early Years?

GK Associate and early years specialist, Monica Thompson, takes a close look at what the UK can learn from the Nordic Model for childcare, and analyses the early years reforms suggested in the recent Times Education Commission Report.

The Nordic Model

In June 2022, Children & Families Minister Will Quince visited nurseries in Sweden as part of a mission to cut childcare costs [1]. The minister visited multiple settings, both state-run and private, and met with senior officials from the Swedish counterpart of Ofsted and Sweden’s Minister for Early Years Education & Childcare. The discussion focused on how the settings in Sweden are able to provide high-quality childcare without putting children at risk and enforcing staff to child ratios. Quince noted that he is determined to address the cost and availability of childcare and learn from our international neighbours.

Some evidence on what works in Early Education in the Nordic countries was provided by Andreas Rasch-Christensen, Research Director at VIA University College in Denmark at the Early Years Alliance Annual Conference – also in June 2022. The Nordic countries have some of the highest employment rates for working mothers and high take-up of childcare places. Andreas pointed out that in Denmark above 90% of early years children are enrolled in day care and approximately 40% of the day care employees lack an official diploma. He also highlighted the importance of the pedagogical foundation – in other words, how Danish and Nordic models of early childhood education are considered. Their work focuses on collaboration with parents to support the children and further improve pedagogical practices. It also underlines the importance of nature and the outdoor environment. Indeed, it has been shown that connections to outdoor living can affect children’s strength, flexibility and coordination, while also reducing stress. These pedagogical foundations, guidelines and themes – as opposed to narrow learning goals – give an insight into Nordic models of early childhood education in both theory and practice.

The Times Education Commission Report

The need for Early Years reform has also been highlighted in the recent Times Education Commission Report. Published on 15 June, the final report from the Commission was entitled Bringing out the Best, How to transform education and unleash the potential of every child [2]. This year-long project has been led by the Times’s Rachel Sylvester, supported by a team of 22 commissioners with backgrounds in business, education, science, the arts and government. The report has been described as one of the most comprehensive inquiries into the UK’s education system and more than 600 witnesses contributed. The report rightly points out the challenges of declining social mobility as well as, more positively, the myriad opportunities presented by new technological innovations.

The commissioners’ work culminated with a 12-point plan to significantly rethink the British education system:

  1. A British Baccalaureate
  2. An “electives premium” 
  3. A new cadre of Career Academies 
  4. A significant boost to early years funding 
  5. An army of undergraduate tutors
  6. A laptop or tablet for every child
  7. Wellbeing being put at the heart of education
  8. Bringing out the best in teaching
  9. A reformed Ofsted
  10. Better training for teachers to identify children with special educational needs
  11. New university campuses in 50 higher education “cold spots”
  12. A 15-year strategy for education.

Significantly for the Early Years sector, the report recommends (as noted above, point 4) “a significant boost to early years funding” – noting that “The extra funding should be targeted at the most vulnerable. A unique pupil number would be given to every child from birth, to level the playing field before they get to school. Every primary school should have a library.”

The Commission also identified many challenges facing the Early Years sector. Indeed, it found, more generally, that the education system currently fails on all measures – from giving young people the intellectual and emotional tools they need as adults to providing businesses with the skills they require. For Early Years specifically, it found that inequalities are ingrained from an early age and preschool education is crucial but often overlooked in this country. The report also highlighted that while one thing that parents put at the top of the list for their children’s education is confidence about their wellbeing, the evidence suggests that they are being let down.

The chapter on Social Mobility and Levelling Up contains also many recommendations for the Early Years sector, including:

  • funding should be targeted at the most disadvantaged and focused on education and child development
  • the 30-hour entitlement should be extended to non-working parents to ensure that the children with the least support at home received it in a professional setting
  • the Early Years Pupil Premium of £302 should be brought into line with primary school rates of £1,345. Raising it, at an estimated cost of £130 million a year, would make it easier for nurseries to break even, reduce the reliance on cross-subsidy and allow providers to pay their workers a more competitive wage
  • there should be a better career structure, professional development and training for Early Years teachers to develop a well-qualified workforce with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to deliver high-quality early education
  • every child should get a “school readiness card” at the end of nursery, describing their skills and development
  • a unique pupil number, allocated at birth, would encourage greater co-ordination and data-sharing between government agencies (such as education, health and social services) to stop the most vulnerable children falling through the gaps [3].

There is an increased awareness of the Nordic Model in the Early Years sector and an increased understanding of why it’s successful. At the same time, the Times Commission’s recommendations provide a plethora of evidence on what the sector needs. The question is whether these important developments will translate into practical policy decisions.

[1] https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/article/children-and-families-minister-visits-nurseries-in-sweden-as-part-of-mission-to-cut-childcare-costs

[2] https://nuk-tnl-editorial-prod-staticassets.s3.amazonaws.com/2022/education-commission/Times%20Education%20Commission%20final%20report.pdf

[3] https://early-education.org.uk/times-education-commission-calls-for-significant-boost-to-early-years-funding/