Diocese encourages parishes to help families affected by poverty

YORK DIOCESE is putting together packs for churches to stem the provision gap affecting children.

The early learning gap between children in poverty and their peers has widened in 76 out of 152 local authorities in England, new analysis from charity Save the Children has revealed.

Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s Director of UK Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said that the charity’s analysis shows that a lack of support for childcare quality in England’ is still letting poverty dictate children’s chances’.

“Children who start school without the tools to learn find it incredibly difficult to catch up, which risks further locking children into poverty in the future.”

He said that while the government has made welcome commitments to close the early learning gap, ‘they are ignoring an early years staffing crisis that will continue to undermine children’s potential – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds’.

Last year the charity reported that there has been a steep decline in the number of people training to become early years teachers (EYT) after governmental figures showed that only 365 people are embarking on the course – a drop of a third since last year, and a decrease of 84 per cent since 2013/14.

The analysis reveals that progress in closing the early learning gap has stalled in 22 local authorities, while the gap is shrinking in another 52.

Nationwide, these figures are part of a significant disparity between preschool children in poverty and their peers, which is widening for the first time in four years.

Regionally, the biggest gap is found in the South West, at 22 percentage points. This is twice the difference in top-performing London, where it is 11 percentage points.

The charity said that the gap is closing in just two – Yorkshire and the Humber, and East Midlands.

Children’s and Youth Adviser for the Diocese of York, Carolyn Edwards, commented: “It is good that Save the Children have highlighted the issue that children from families under pressure are more likely to be on ‘catch up’ throughout their school life. They are challenging the government to provide better nursery provision but that is only a partial solution to the problem.”

She said that more support needs to be given to parents who may be overwhelmed by early parenthood, particularly when experiencing the additional stresses that poverty, mental health issues, family breakdown and addictions can cause in family homes.

“The church is well placed to provide this support to parents, many of whom they are already in contact with through foodbanks or parent and toddler groups. By offering safe, non-judgemental, spaces where parent can find a listening ear, a warm drink and access to resources that can help them be the better parent that they want to be,” she said.

The charity’s analysis has revealed a shortage of around 2,000 early years teachers in the most disadvantaged areas, where they are most needed.

The charity recently published a report, It All Starts Here, which reveals dissatisfaction with pay and conditions is causing problems with recruitment, and calls on the government to invest in helping providers to employ early years teachers.

The charity is calling for the government to invest in recruiting and retaining EYTs in the most disadvantaged areas bytrialling early career payments for the first five years of working in private, voluntary, and independent settings in disadvantaged areas mirroring an existing scheme for secondary maths teachers.

They are also calling on the government to trial a salary supplement scheme to top up wages, to enable providers to afford the additional cost of employing a graduate.