Despite Eligibility, Low-Income UK Kids Miss Out on Early Education


Britain’s nursery schools are increasingly populated by the middle class at the expense of the poor, education standards watchdog Ofsted says, according to its Early Years Annual report.

Poor two-year-old are in need of a nursery-based educational environment and although it is free and available to them, they receive it less often than they should. Schools offering early education need to attract poor children, Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw Ofsted said during a speech for the report’s launch.

About 260,000 disadvantaged two-year old English children are eligible for 15 hours of weekly free education, but only 58% of them receive it. Early education is essential for disadvantaged children who can take advantage of it catch up with their more well-off peers. Instead, nursery school places are populated by middle class children who can afford to get educational stimuli from a private nursery, a childminder, or at home, Sir Michael Wilshaw says.

“Let me be clear: What the poorest children need is to be taught and well taught from the age of two. Children who are at risk of falling behind need particular help. And it remains my view that schools are often best placed to deliver this.”

For Sir Wilshaw, middle class children who have many other opportunities for early education colonize nursery schools, while the poorest children are lagging behind as a result of not getting any exposure to age-appropriate education.

In 2013, British ministers launched a free early-education program to help poor children catch up with their more advantaged peers. The funded nursery places for two-year olds are offered based on family income, but implementation has been uneven.

According to the Ofsted annual report, 113,000 (42%) disadvantaged children don’t have a nursery place even though the state plan makes them eligible for it. The annual report reveals that there are enough spaces to enable at least one in every three disadvantaged children to receive a free nursery place.

Sir Michael said that it is imperative for health and children’s centers to encourage funded places to be taken up by disadvantaged students.

“But what is really needed is someone who meets the parents of every child who is eligible for funded early education from two. Someone who will speak to them, and make sure they know what their child needs, and what they are entitled to. Someone who will be accountable for making sure that no one slips through the net.”

According to the Ofsted figures, in 2014 only a thousand additional two-year-olds went to nursery school, which amounts to less than 7 children in every local authority area, Sir Michael emphasized.

Giving disadvantaged children access to early education means they get to interact and grow in a supportive environment surrounded by special language and speech therapists and receive behavior management services.

The Ofsted report reveals that the government’s pledge to increase the number of free early education hours for children with working parents is likely to put pressure on certain regions, writes Freddie Whitaker of Schools Week.