From education to employment

The childcare revolution: A new opportunity for parental partnerships in child learning

Lee Elliot Major

Expanding Childcare: Time for children, parents and family learning

Estonian inspiration

Estonia’s famed affordable childcare system has got politicians around the world flocking to Tallinn seeking inspiration from the small Baltic state.

Parents in Estonia enjoy affordable fees for sending their children to kindergarten in contrast to the crippling costs of childcare in Britain.

Sensing a potential vote winner in the next General Election, both major political parties are now promoting less draconian and more Estonian childcare policies.

But just focusing on superior childcare is to miss the point completely; it is the quality of the Estonia’s pre-school system that has made it the go-to place on the global trail for educational wisdom.

What is striking about Estonia’s rising position in the international PISA education league rankings is that so few of the country’s students are among low performers in any of the three core subjects assessed by the OECD.

As in Finland, compulsory schooling does not begin until children are seven years old, but large proportions of 3- and 4-year-olds enjoy state-funded early education.

Early years teachers must be well qualified. They are well paid and joined by in-house psychologists and speech therapists. They are guided by a national curriculum and children learn through play. It means that most children know how to read and write by the time they start school.

Affordable childcare combined with high quality pre-school should be a no-brainer policy for all governments. But you must pay for a policy whose benefits may not be fully realised until many years into the future.

Teacher-parent partnerships

We must tread carefully when seeking policy answers from overseas. But another recurring theme among countries ranked highly on education is that they boast strong teacher- parent partnerships. From Finland to Shanghai in China the message is the same – progress comes from healthy home and school learning environments.

These international lessons resonate with what we know from decades of education research. A recurring finding is that much (between 50-80 percent) of the variation in pupils’ achievement is due to factors that lie outside the school gates. A big part of this is due to what happens before children start school.

In my own research we found that half of teenagers who leave secondary school in England without the ‘expected standard’ of a grade 4 pass in GCSE English language and maths were judged to be falling behind at age 5.

Children in homes with poor learning environments do less well at earlier ages in school. Having parents with low levels of parental education is a strong predictor of failure at every age. Children with non-graduate parents are far less likely to grow up in two parent homes and family-owned homes than children with graduate parents. The stark education divides of the post pandemic era do not bode well for social mobility prospects.

In my book the Good Parent Educator, I showed how simple habits can make life-defining differences. Sitting down with a book with a son and daughter each day just for 20 minutes for example can transform their children’s learning. Daily routines are also important. Currently, only 36 percent of parents feel they are provided with adequate guidance to help with their children’s education.

These steps would be truly revolutionary. Caring for children is not just about providing safe environments so parents can work, but working together with parents to stimulate minds so they can flourish in the future.

Recommendation 1

More parents should be eligible for childcare. Our current and planned system is unfair, with many of the poorest families locked-out of the Government’s entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare. To be eligible for support, adults need to be working. We need to widen the offer of 30 hours of free childcare to families with children under 5 who are in desperate need of support during the early formative years.

Recommendation 2

The Government should develop a plan to professionalise the childcare sector especially in education settings, properly pay teaching staff and, hire and retain qualified and trained people. Many nursery staff in the UK lack basic qualifications. Two decades ago, Britain was envied across the world for its Sure Start Centres; now it has fallen behind. Extra investment is needed. Affordable childcare is only one half of the challenge – this is about providing children with the foundations so they can prosper in school and life.

Recommendation 3

The Government must establish parent partnership plans. These would be established with early years providers and then maintained with schools as children grow up. The aim would be to help develop habits in the home environment to support learning. This ‘parent promise’ would be a win-win strategy for teachers, as children would be more likely to attend nursery or school and be better prepared to learn when they arrive.

By Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility, University of Exeter

Campaign for Learning has released a new series of articles, Expanding Childcare: Time for children, parents and family learning.

See below when each article will be published on FE News:

Part One: Childcare the welfare state – 20th July

1. Will Snell, Chief Executive, The Fairness Foundation

Childcare and a new social contract

2. Anneka Dawson, Head of Pre-16 Education, Ceri Williams, Senior Research Fellow, and Alexandra Nancarrow, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies

The childcare sector: Providers and the workforce in England

Part Two: Childcare and time for work – 21st July

3. Paul Bivand, Independent Policy Analyst

Women, employment and childcare

4. James Cockett, Labour Market Economist and Claire McCartney, Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion, CIPD

The planned childcare entitlements and progression into work

5. Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive, Working Families

Combining flexible working and childcare to solve the childcare crisis

Part Three: Childcare and time for child development – 24th July

6. Janeen Hayat, Director of Collective Action, Fair Education Alliance

Improving childcare quality to support educational outcomes

7. Megan Jarvie, Head of Coram Family and Childcare

Making a step change to child development through childcare

8. Professor Elizabeth Rapa and Professor Louise Dalton, University of Oxford

Childcare, children’s development and education outcomes

Part Four: Childcare and time for parental engagement – 25th July

9. Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility, University of Exeter

The childcare revolution: A new opportunity for parental partnerships in child learning

10. Bea Stevenson, Head of Education, Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health

Childcare and parental engagement in child learning

Part Five: Childcare and time for adult skills – 26th July

11. Simon Ashworth, Policy Director, AELP

The new childcare entitlements and skills bootcamps

12. Sharon Cousins, Vice Principal, Newham College and National Association for Managers of Student Services Executive

The new childcare entitlements and access to further education

13. Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX

A thriving society means linking the new childcare entitlements to adult learning

Part Six: Childcare and time for family learning –

27th July

14. Sam Freedman, Senior Fellow, Institute for Government

The childcare revolution and family learning

15. Susan Doherty, Development Officer – Family Learning, Education Scotland

Family learning and childcare: Lessons from Scotland

28th July

16. Susannah Chambers, Independent Consultant

Bringing childcare and family learning together

17. Henriett Toth, Parent

Family learning and childcare: A personal experience

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