Lacking evidence that childcare investment raises school standards, NAO claims

According to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO), there is not enough proof that the £2.7 billion which is being invested in early years education is improving school standards.

The study maintained that there has been an increase in the number of children achieving a good level of development at the end of reception, rising from 52 per cent in 2013, to 66 per cent in 2015. However it highlighted that there was still a large 18 per cent gap between the proportion of disadvantaged children reaching these levels compared with their peers.

It also added that there was no way of assessing the impact different early years providers had on children. It said: "The Department for Education (DfE) has not sought to track outcomes for cohorts of children who attended different types of early years provider, which would be one way to try to understand the relative effectiveness of different approaches.”

Statistics from the report, entitled Entitlement to free early education and childcare, showed the uptake of the free 15 hours a week childcare for three to four-years-olds was almost universal, while the same offer for disadvantaged two-year-olds had only been taken up by 59 per cent of those eligible.

Amyas Morse, head of NAO, said: “Many parents and children are benefitting from the entitlement to free childcare, but the DfE does not yet know what long-term outcomes it is getting for its investment of nearly £3 billion a year.”

“In rolling out the new entitlement the DfE should use and evaluate its pilots to make sure that certain groups do not inadvertently lose out. It is particularly important that the number of disadvantaged two-year-olds accessing free childcare continues to rise, in line with the DfE’s own aspirations.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “We welcome this report from the NAO, and in particular, its emphasis on the need to ensure that the 30-hour offer is funded adequately.

“We agree that the upcoming pilots will be vital to ensuring the success of the 30-hour free entitlement offer. However, as it stands, providers in those local authorities chosen to trial the extended scheme still have no idea how much funding they will receive, meaning that they cannot plan or budget effectively ahead of time.

“This scheme is too important to be rushed or cobbled together. The government must now work in partnership with the sector if it is to deliver on the promise that it made to parents.”

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