THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said that there needs to be “a clear and joined-up strategy” for early-years education.
Speaking separately about the publication of a report last week by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, Bishop Treweek also said that the Government’s desire to “Build back, Build better” must include “creating a secure foundation for all our children, to help them grow into flourishing adults”.
Mrs Longfield’s report, Best Beginnings, speaks of the “disjointed” provision of early-years services for children in England, and warns that one in four nurseries is at risk of closure this year. This, the report says, could have a negative impact on the life chances of some of the most vulnerable children after lockdown.
It describes how many children, particularly those in disadvantaged families, are already falling behind when they start formal education. Last year, 29 per cent of five-year-olds in England were not at the expected level of development when they started school. The proportion rises to 45 per cent for the recipients of free school meals.
Bishop Treweek, a member of the Children’s Commissioner’s advisory group, said that church work with young children was important. “Toddler groups, many provided by churches and other community-based groups, do a huge amount of early intervention and signposting work informally across the country. We want to encourage this expression of civil society, but the Government must partner with the community to make sure that local services are joined up, holistic, and sufficiently funded.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, was also on the advisory group, and applauded the report on Twitter.
Mrs Longfield said: “Each year, 82,000 children in England start school significantly behind where they should be at the age of five. Nurseries and early-years support play a vital role in helping children prepare for school, but coronavirus and lockdown have put many at risk of closure. The consequences could be thousands of children missing out on vital support that sets them on a path to a good education and better prospects.
“At the same time, any economic recovery will need parents to be able to return to work full-time. Nursery closures could put a dent in plans to get the economy back on track.
“The Government must make the early years a priority and drive reforms, so that all children start school ready and able to learn and progress. Alongside high-quality early education, this means making sure that every family is guaranteed the support they need to help their young child to thrive, and to prevent early challenges turning into serious problems.
“This ‘Best Beginnings’ guarantee should make early years a central building-block of the national recovery plan to level up children’s life chances, support families, and boost the economy.”