Government early years policy undermines child wellbeing, experts warn

By Laura McCardle

| 23 April 2014

The wellbeing of young children could be compromised if the government continues to advocate "developmentally inappropriate practice", a group of early years experts has warned.

Early years experts have said current government policy risks the wellbeing of young children.

In a letter to the three main political party leaders, 11 experts, including Melian Mansfield, chair of the Early Childhood Forum and Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, call for a more inclusive and child-focused approach to the early years.

They have hit out at what they describe as the Department for Education’s “consistent disregard of expert opinion” when developing policies, citing the government’s recent confirmation that it will not implement recommendations put forward by Professor Cathy Nutbrown in her June 2012 review of early education as a prime example.

The experts, co-ordinated by the Save Childhood Movement, also said they will encourage parents, practitioners and carers to consider each political party’s early years pledges when voting in the 2015 election in a bid to ensure young children’s wellbeing is at the heart of future policy.

The letter follows the launch of the organisation’s Too Much, Too Soon campaign in September last year, which calls on the government to place a greater emphasis on play-based learning.

It reads: "We are committed to ensuring that political systems safeguard the health and wellbeing of young children as citizens with developmental rights and freedoms and, over the next year, we aim to be increasingly active as a sector in ensuring that this is seen to be the case.

"We are also keen to offer our combined knowledge and understanding to policymakers in order to better substantiate the evidence and to ensure that the future wellbeing and attainment of children in England is not compromised by developmentally inappropriate practice."

Signatory Leitch said policy needs to be focused on meeting the needs of children and their families.

He said: "At the moment, it seems that early years policy is largely based on the personal views of government figures and what they feel constitutes 'good' early education.

"Such an approach is illogical, impractical and will ultimately have a detrimental impact on children's early learning and development, and so it is vital that the sector continues to work together to ensure that it does not continue."

A spokeswoman for the DfE defended its policy on the early years.

She said: “The evidence is clear – starting to learn from a young age with high-quality teacher-led provision can have a real and lasting impact on children’s development and life chances, particularly for those from the most disadvantaged families.

“High-quality school nurseries will enable children who are behind to catch up with their peers.

“We have already made great strides in early years provision with the introduction of the new early years pupil premium, strengthened early years qualifications and encouraging schools to open from 8am to 6pm.”

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