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Three in Five Practitioners Believe That the Attainment Gap Has Widened During the Pandemic

Nearly half of early years providers believe that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has widened since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey conducted by the Early Years Alliance.

Baby building stack of blocks
Photographer: Ryan Fields | Source: Unsplash

The attainment gap has grown during the pandemic between disadvantaged children and those from higher income levels, according to new research from the Early Years Alliance.

In their recent survey, consulting over 1,300 Early Years Professionals, more than half stated that they had observed negative changes in the development and learning of the children in their care following the first lockdown, with 42% of practitioners who had observed such changes saying that they were even more evident in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There is also a clear concern amongst practitioners regarding their children’s progress and attainment, with three in five professionals saying that fewer children were reaching their expected level of development in the ‘prime areas’ of learning.

The Alliance has put a particular emphasis on a lack of resources playing a major role in causing this development and attainment gap, largely in response to an overwhelming call from practitioners for more support, with 82% saying that the government is not doing enough to tackle the impact of the pandemic on under 5’s.

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:

“Practitioners responding to the survey said they know exactly what children at their settings most need to recover lost skills and confidence, and that the only thing stopping them from taking action is a lack of resources. It is therefore vital that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are given dedicated financial support for recovery, and the autonomy to use it as they see fit.

"Proper funding would enable the targeted interventions needed to improve children’s personal, social and emotional development alongside their physical development, which many respondents noted have suffered as a result of being cut off from their friends and opportunities to play and explore.

“Given the proven link between investment in early years and better educational and social outcomes, especially for the most disadvantaged children, a failure to invest now would be unforgivable.”

Although the pandemic has exacerbated the issue, the attainment gap and inequality in Early Years resourcing and development is an ongoing issue, with previous research by the Education Endowment Foundation indicating a development gap by age 5 between disadvantaged and affluent children of 4.3 months, a gap that only accelerates through children’s learning journey.

As one respondent to the Alliance’s survey put it:

“Our children and families need support now. If we do not invest this time and support now, we will see the consequences as these children continue their educational journey.”

The survey comes a day after the government announced additional funding for schools with reception classes to access Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI), a programme run with schools by the Nuffield Foundation, and the mention of additional resource to deliver on the The Best Start for Life: A Vision for the 1,001 Critical Days report in this week’s Queen’s speech.

Many in the sector, while welcoming the new initiatives, will be hoping that more resource is provided by government to address their concerns and observations, and to ensure that children whose early education has been disrupted by the pandemic do not fall even further behind.