In Westminster circles, October represents the kick off for the new political season with party conference gatherings taking place across England. Given the impending general election that will likely take place in 2024, all eyes were on the respective Education teams to assess what their manifestos have in store.
As expected, Gillian Keegan MP, current Secretary of State for Education, merely reiterated the already much vaunted commitment to deliver the 30 hours of ‘’free’’ childcare for working parents from the end of maternity leave until their child goes to school. No other plans were vaunted.
Gillian Keegan MP speech
Not so at the Liberal Democrats party conference though. Their spokesperson for education, Munira Wilson MP, revealed their priorities for early education and childcare:
- Providing free, full-time childcare for all children from age two, and for working parents, from the age of nine months.
- Reviewing funding rates for early years providers to ensure they ‘genuinely’ reflect the cost of delivering high-quality places.
- Closing the attainment gap by giving disadvantaged children aged two to four an additional five free hours of early years education a week, along with tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per year.
- Developing a career strategy for childcare staff, including a comprehensive training programme so staff working with children aged two to four have a relevant early years qualification.
They also highlighted their intention to introduce measures to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including extra funding for local councils and a new National Body for SEND to fund support for children with very high needs and help to end SEND provision postcode lottery.
Munira Wilson MP speech
In regard to the Labour Party, Bridget Phillipson MP, the Shadow Education Secretary announced plans for a large-scale review into early years education and childcare in England. The review will be chaired by Sir David Bell, the former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, and the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and was broadly welcomed across the early education and childcare sector.
Labour said its review would focus on driving up high standards and would outline a plan for the upcoming expansion of the early entitlement offers, look at major reforms for the early years workforce, and contribute to the party's plan to deal the poor availability of early years places.
Bridget Phillipson MP speech
PACEY welcomed the review but emphasised that it must ensure that excellent early education is available to all that need it, not just those that can afford it or whose parents are working. Disadvantaged children and those with SEND are too often excluded from the best possible start in life that early education and care can provide.
As momentum builds towards the general election, we should remember what was achieved in England in the years following the 1997 election. A comprehensive long-term, cross departmental strategy with the needs of children at its centre. We want to see that ambition again: a fully funded vision for world class early education and care that is integrated with all the local services that children need and which has a respected and properly rewarded workforce at its core.
Conservative party pledges
Liberal Democrats pledges
Labour party pledges