Tag Archives: education

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/

GK Point of View - Monica Thompson on the challenges facing the early years sector

GK Point of View – Monica Thompson on the challenges facing the early years sector

GK Consultant and education expert, Monica Thompson, takes a look at the challenges facing the early years sector.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the entire education sector, this period has been particularly challenging for nurseries, pre-schools and other early years settings. Ofsted’s recently published findings on the pandemic’s impact on children of all ages and backgrounds. It reported that children who had been hardest hit by the pandemic actually regressed in terms of their basic skills and learning. Similarly, research by the Sutton Trust from May 2021 [1] emphasised that over half of parents of pre-school children were worried about Covid-19’s impact on their children’s wellbeing and long-term development.

The Social Mobility Commission report ‘The stability of the early years workforce in England’, published in 2020, had previously found that that low pay, heavy workloads and a lack of career development for early years workers were likely to have a serious impact on nurseries, pre-schools and other settings. The pandemic proceeded to lay bare the vulnerability of the already struggling early years sector. In April 2022, the Department for Education published three new reports which were commissioned from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and Frontier Economics [2]. The reports focus on Covid’s impact on the early years sector and jointly emphasise the challenges posed by funding constraints and severe staffing issues (including workforce recruitment / retention), as well as wider economic pressures and generally rising costs. The reports also raised concerns about deregulation and the mooted relaxation in staff/child ratios – stating that it might lead shortages of qualified and experienced people in the sector.

The same reports also found that 72% of private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries and pre-schools have lost staff since the pandemic began. Nearly half (47%) of PVI nurseries and pre-schools said the main reason for staff leaving was to seek better pay while, worryingly, an even higher proportion (60%) reported that those exiting are leaving the sector entirely. The reports also collectively found that 54% of PVI settings and 49% of childminders report that their total costs have ‘notably’ increased on pre-Covid levels. Indeed, only 39% of private providers and 21% of voluntary providers were in financial surplus in 2021 and, for childminders, the figure fell to just 19% [3].

It is worth noting that all main political parties are now emphasising the growing problems over childcare’s affordability. The main focus of the current government, in terms of addressing these early years financial challenges, has generally been on parents’ employment and behaviour, not their circumstances. However, the paradigm has started to shift in recent months. For example, in October 2021, Nadhim Zahawi MP, during his first conference speech as Education Secretary, recognised that 40% of educational inequality is ‘baked in’ by the age of five. He also said that the Government would invest a record £180 million in ‘outstanding’ early years staff.

Looking ahead, we can expect a stronger focus on early years issues over the months ahead. Ofsted’s recently published five-year strategy [4] emphasises the inspectorate’s work in the early years sector and recognises the pandemic’s impact on young children. Indeed, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, has said that Ofsted wants to bring early education to the fore and will work on developing the associated evidence base. The organisation’s new 2022-2027 strategy not only acknowledges that the sector has been hit hard by Covid-19 but quantifies the problem by recognising that, during the course of the pandemic, the number of registered childcare providers fell from over 75,000 to just below 70,000 – with childminders accounting for the bulk of the reduction. However, ultimately, Ofsted’s commitments will only work if they are backed by government policy that supports the Early Years sector. The sector also needs appropriate investment to guarantee that nurseries, pre-schools and other early years settings are able to provide quality care and education.

For more information, please contact Monica at monica@gkstrategy.com

[1] Fairness First: Social Mobility, Covid and Education Recovery – Sutton Trust

[2] The three reports can be read below:

[3] Impact of Covid on childcare settings highlighted in new DfE research – Early Years Educator

[4] Ofsted Strategy 2022 – 2027

What does a _review_ of government policy on employer training mean_

What does a “review” of government policy on employer training mean?

Perspective by David Laws, GK Adviser

Last week the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made a few waves in the education sector by announcing in his Spring Statement a “review” of government policy on employer training, including the Apprenticeship Levy. The announcement caught many by surprise, including apparently some of the Chancellor’s colleagues in the Education Department.

By the end of the week, some were suggesting that the “review” was not a formal “Review”, and might not result in much change in the Levy. So, what exactly is going on? Well, the Apprenticeship Levy seems to have strong backing in the government, and indeed across the political parties. Inevitably, there are often calls for tweaks, for more “flexibility” and for a variety of different reforms – not all of which are mutually compatible.

The Chancellor’s “review” could result in looking again at some of these practical issues, which also include the extent to which the existing Levy is being used to support new entrants into the labour market, as opposed to existing staff (some of whom may already have higher level, tax-payer supported, qualifications). But the Chancellor might have something new or “additional” in mind, to work alongside the Levy. In his recent “Mais Lecture” the Chancellor started to set out his vision of a post-pandemic economic strategy, including “investment in people”. Some have speculated that he may want to introduce some sort of discrete tax credit to incentivise training. This would presumably involve reformulating the existing tax relief for training which is available through the corporation tax system. The aim, in any case, seems to be to raise the amount of expenditure by employers on training, and improve its quality and focus. The review will look at whether current incentives are delivering the “right kinds of training”.

What should those interested in the Apprenticeship Levy make of all this? It seems if there is still a strong commitment to the principle of the Levy, and a desire in some parts of government not to rock the boat too much. This could suggest that the review will make small changes to the Levy, while perhaps restructuring other training reliefs.

But it would be unwise to take any review into this area for granted – not least one where the powerful Treasury appears to be in the driving seat. To the extent that the review does look at if “the current tax system is incentivising the right kinds of training”, the review could ask some fundamental questions, which could have both direct and indirect effects on the Levy. This could include looking at issues raised by the Augar Review, around the support for higher level apprenticeships.

Whether this “review” is one with a small “r” or capital “R”, all those interested in the Levy and the future of government policy on training support incentives should be using this as an opportunity to feed into government their views on how the system should evolve. The review is going to need to address some fundamental issues, and what impact this will have on future government policy on training cannot be taken for granted.