Delivering for future generations: the importance of getting early years education right

Tracy Brabin MP addressed school leaders at the National Association of Head Teachers conference over the weekend where she spoke about government failures and the importance of getting early years education right.

During her speech the Batley and Spen MP covered Labour’s offer of properly funded 30 hours of free childcare for all 2-4 years olds, Sure Start centres, exciting plans for a National Education Service and much more.

Tracy Brabin MP’s speech in full:

It’s an absolute pleasure to be with you all here in Telford – a place that just put its faith in Labour to run its council once again –  and to be among some of the most passionate, and excellent educational leaders our country has to offer.

During my time with you today I’d like to tell you a bit about me and where my passion for education comes from, explain where I feel the current government needs to do better and what education will look like under the next Labour Government.

As mentioned in the introduction, my name is Tracy Brabin and I’m the MP for Batley and Spen.

Before becoming a Member of Parliament I worked as an actor, in Coronation Street and EastEnders, then as a writer, working on shows such as Hollyoaks, Shameless and Tracy Beaker.

Then in 2016 on the eve of the Referendum on our membership of European Union, Jo Cox was killed in the very village I grew up in.

I stood as the Labour candidate in the by-election that followed and during my first spell in parliament I joined the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

Focusing on important issues such as equality in the workplace, getting women back into work and highlighting issues surrounding maternity discrimination.

Then 2017, Theresa May called the general election and I was honoured to be re-elected.

Jeremy Corbyn asked me to join his front bench – working on Early Years in Angela Rayner’s shadow education team.

It felt like a natural fit, so I said yes, and haven’t looked back since.

From acting, writing and now a politician – it has been a varied and excited career. And one I feel lucky to have had.

But I know full well that I would not be here today, and I wouldn’t have walked on that fabled, cobbled, Corrie Street if it wasn’t for the education I received.

It is the foundation that my life has been built on.

From a working class family, I received state education and it was of high quality and supported me.

And more than that, something that is very important to me, is that there was creativity – drama, music and self-expression.

When I look around my constituency in West Yorkshire today – I sadly don’t see the same opportunities for children as the ones I had.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I believe the record of the Conservative Party over the last nine years in government has been poor.

As the Shadow Minister for Early Years, I want to focus on this area. Not least because it is the most important.

Just last week we saw the damning evidence from the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission that showed Inequality will remain entrenched in the UK “from birth to work” unless the government takes urgent action.

It found that about a half (52%) of disadvantaged teenagers leave school without basic qualifications and many get stuck in low-paid work.

If we don’t get the gap down – the one that too often exists between the disadvantaged children their better off peers by the time they show up at the school gates – we’re so often playing a loosing game of catch up.

This is why I’m so passionate about policy in the early years and also why I so often feel completely deflated at where we are now.

First of all, let’s look at the big one – the 30 hours of free childcare – a Conservative pledge at the 2015 general election.

It came into effect during the summer of 2017 and was an incredible opportunity. One that could have transformed our early education system – put to bed once and for all the idea that state responsibility for education starts with school.

But the reality was quite different. Nearly as soon as the policy was announced there were rumblings that the funding levels weren’t enough – and those rumblings have got louder and louder.

Settings, to trade union, think-tanks, local authorities, Members of Parliament, maintained Nursery Schools and even two House of Commons select committees have sought more money for the policy – but so far nothing from the Government.

Recent NDNA researched showed –

  • An annual funding deficit of over £2000 per child.
  • A third of nurseries having to limit the funded places they can offer to try to reduce their spiralling shortfalls.
  • And a third of nurseries being paid late for the work they do.

As a result we have seen outstanding and experienced providers closing their doors for good.

And as I travel up and down the country, even in nurseries that aren’t at direct risk of closure – far too often the attention of the leaders in those nurseries has been moved from what’s going on in the soft play area to what the spreadsheets are saying.

That’s not what we want for our children.

The funding levels as we’ve just discussed – and we also had the chaos of a sign-up system for parents that didn’t work, remember that?

They also wanted to exclude fostered children from the policy for no other reason than they were fostered – only reversing this after we mounted a campaign.

But despite all of that – there is one element I find truly unforgivable.

If we accept that high quality early years education can change the life of a child – and I think we all agreed that it can –

And if we believe the overwhelming evidence that there is a gap between the rich and poor on the first day of school –

Then why on earth have the Conservatives only permitted children whose parents work to benefit for 30 hours of free childcare?

By it’s very nature this is a policy that every single day is locking the poorest children in the country out.

And I believe in years to come we will find that it has had a negative impact on social mobility.

But don’t worry too much – we’ve got big plans to change that – which I’ll come onto.

Before that though, I want to discuss the disadvantaged two-year-olds funded hours.

The poorest two-year olds are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare every week yet consistently 3 out of 10 are missing out.

We must do better than that – and the Government need to invest in a public awareness campaign. It’s not good enough to simply create it and expect it to be found.

And an issue I know is important to many of you is Maintained Nursery Schools.
So often the crème de la crème of early years education –

Usually based in areas of disadvantage – a qualified teacher in every classroom – strong leadership – linked in with other local services – overwhelmingly well rated with Ofsted

This is a successful model with a track record to be proud of.

But they have been treated so badly in recent years.

Many have disappeared and we’re years into a campaign for fairer funding to secure the future of Maintained Nursery Schools.

I know there was some stopgap funding announced recently – but come on…..

Planning year by year or even month by month isn’t fair and we shouldn’t ask school leaders to do it.

So – what are we going to do instead –

Well this is the part I’m most enthusiastic about.

When in Government, I’ll make sure that our early years and childcare sector is treated with the respect that it deserves.

I want to put quality right at the heart of our Early Years Plan. And talk boldly about Early Education as well as childcare.

And as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn laid out at our annual conference –

We’re going to provide 30 hours of funded childcare and early education hours to all 2-4 year olds, and it’s going to be available universally so the poorest – and those children who would benefit most – don’t miss out.

I know that this may sound like more of the same, but crucially Labour would use capital expenditure to make sure the funding rates are high enough.

The funding rate is going to be £7.35 per hour by the end of our first term in government.

We’ll deliver this significant investment into early years because we appreciate that quality comes at a cost and that it’s the best for future generations.

And I want to work hand in hand with the sector – including the NAHT – to help raise and maintain the standards of childcare across the board.

This week we revealed a 10-year plan to shift to a graduate-led workforce and improve the pay and skills of childcare staff with a new national pay scale for all early years workers starting at £10 an hour.

Because you all know that our incredible practitioners deserve a pay rise.

When I visit settings and see the dedication and enthusiasm for the job I’m saddened that early years and childcare is one of lowest paid sectors of the economy.

Early years professionals earn less than half the median wage of qualified teachers.

Nurseries and childminders provide a vital public service and we’re going to make sure they’re paid properly to reflect that – attracting the best and brightest to the sector too.

And I want more men in the sector – something I know we agree on.

With more pay and training opportunities I hope we’ll be able to end the recruitment crisis facing so many of our settings.

I’m delighted that Jeremy Corbyn also laid out further details of some of our other exciting policies.

Because we realise that 30 hours may not be enough for all parents, we would introduce subsidised childcare, on a tiered basis which would mean the lowest earners get the most help accessing the care they need.

And those at the upper end of the household income will pay up to £4 per hour.

In order to avoid overburdening parents and settings with different support schemes we’re going to do away with Tax-Free childcare.

It has proved unpopular with parents – the take up has been vastly less than expected. (£800m less in the first year). It’s also regressive in that it helps those with the deepest pockets the most.

And I can’t discuss our plans without mentioning Sure Start, a service that has been decimated by the current Government.

So we will ring-fence funding for Sure Start meaning that children, no matter where they live, will have access to services. Ending the current post code lottery.

Which has got to be our mission, if we truly want to be a country of social mobility it means not standing by and watching as children fall behind.

And we’ll improve what happens behind those school gates too –

The current academy system is over-centralised, inefficient, undemocratic, and does not improve standards in our schools or outcomes for pupils.

Parents, communities, and teachers are shut out of decisions about schools and vulnerable children are being let down by the system.

Our schools have had their budgets cut year after year, we are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. They’ve cut 2.7 billion pounds from school budgets in England

And you, our school leaders are being forced to ask parents for money for even the most basic provisions to teach their students.

Meanwhile, the leaders of some multi-academy trusts are earning fat cat salaries from taxpayers’ money while financial mismanagement and scandals grow.

Under Angela Rayner Labour in Government would end the fragmentation of our school system, giving power back to communities so that our schools are run by and accountable to the people who know them best – parents, teachers, and local communities.

We will return significant powers to local government, including making them responsible for all school admissions in their areas, and giving them the powers they need to open and commission new schools to create the places their communities need.

We’ll end the current free schools and academies programme, moving towards a new system, integrated in our National Education Service, where all schools follow the same rules, and schools are meaningfully accountable to the parents and communities they serve.

And we’ll invest again in schools.

6.87 billion extra a year, for free school meals, an arts Pupil Premium and an improved funding formula.

This is our vision for education through out National Education System and I hope every single one of you in this room are as excited as I am because you all have a large part to play.

And let me finish by saying from the bottom of heart – thank you for everything that you do for children.

When I visit nurseries, primaries and secondaries – despite all of the clear challenges that you face – I am constantly assured that children will thrive under the leadership of their schools. I hope we can make your life easier soon.

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