Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 6:18 pm, 7th June 2022

I join in wishing Brannagh a happy birthday—I hope she has a lovely day.

I wish to start by talking about the points I made in my intervention on the importance of oracy. The Government talk an awful lot about the importance of being evidence-led. The evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation is conclusive on the importance of oracy. It is a shame that the Minister for School Standards is not here right now, because I was slightly concerned that in his response he seemed to be talking about oracy in relation just to the early years, whereas good oracy education needs to be continued throughout the early years, all the way through primary school and on into secondary school.

Through the all-party parliamentary group on oracy, I was recently able to invite some wonderful year 6 pupils from Cubitt Town Junior School in Tower Hamlets to show off their oracy skills. They were absolutely outstanding. Their confidence, the way they spoke to the different adults in the room and the way they articulated everything they had gone through was incredibly impressive. It was even more impressive given the fact that they were children from one of the most deprived areas in the country. Many of the pupils at the school are pupil premium children and some of them have English as an additional language. Despite all the barriers, they have overcome them through sustained and explicit oracy teaching.

It is not just me or the Education Endowment Foundation saying this: Ofsted is saying it as well. In its report on its English review, published on 23 May, Ofsted talks about the importance of oracy—in fact, a whole section is dedicated to it. It says that

“a strong command of the spoken word is a crucial outcome of English education. The benefits of spoken language extend beyond just success at school. Becoming an articulate, effective communicator forms the basis of democratic engagement within wider society.”

Ofsted goes on to say:

“Opportunities for pupils to develop their proficiency in spoken language require explicit teaching”.

I really wanted the Minister for School Standards to hear that point about explicit teaching. Too many people think that skills in oracy are developed through osmosis by just being in an environment. We are talking about explicit teaching. According to Ofsted, those opportunities

“require explicit teaching of the knowledge, for example vocabulary, and ideas necessary for effective communication. These opportunities should be planned carefully, both in English lessons and across other subjects.”

So we are talking about the explicit teaching of oracy. In my opinion, and that of the APPG, oracy teaching should be as explicit as the teaching of reading and writing. Reading, writing and oracy are the three pillars that should underpin all English education.

My hon. Friends have already made for me the points in my speech about how expensive childcare is, so the House will be pleased to hear that I am not going to repeat them all now, but it is worth pointing out that net childcare payments in the UK account for 29% of average income. That is clearly unsustainable and cannot be allowed to continue. Why is the cost so shockingly high? Is it because wages are too low? Is it because childcare costs are too high? It is probably a mix of both.

My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh made an excellent point about the number of women who are—I hate the phrase—economically inactive because they are unable to go out to work because of the cost of childcare. I recently shared something to do with the cost of childcare on my social media and there were nearly 200 comments under it. I would like to share with the Minister a couple of the points that were made.

One commenter gave the childcare provider’s point of view. They said:

“If the government wants it to work they have to increase the amount that childcare providers get. Currently that is a national lottery. Some providers get most of the funding rate, some providers get about half, as their”— local authority—

“keeps a large proportion. There are early years providers all over the country closing their doors as they just can’t make it work. Even those that are committee run, not-for-profit and that just take funded 3 and 4 year olds still can’t make it work.

On top of that there’s a massive staffing crisis in early years. Settings are shutting left, right and centre. Many providers, including me, are having to reduce the age range and numbers we care for because we can’t attract qualified staff. There’s a massive national shortage. We would love to pay our fabulous staff more but the funding rates are just too low.”

David Simmonds made a thoughtful speech. The only point on which I disagree with him is about the childcare ratio. I used to work in children’s nurseries before I trained as a teacher: believe me, if someone has more than two or three two-year-olds, they have their hands full. We should think seriously about the ratio. It is also worth thinking about how things work in a nursery when we look at the ratio of adults to children, because often one of the adults might be doing nappies, another might be feeding and another might be playing with the children, so the ratio can be higher during the time the adult is physically with the number of children, because it is to do with the number of adults and children in the building. I warn against trying to change that as a way to reduce costs.

I want to conclude by quoting what a constituent told me about her difficulty paying for childcare. She said

“I work full-time with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. I’m an early years teacher, so see the struggles of many parents with regard to childcare. My 2-year-old is in nursery for ONLY 3 mornings and this costs us around £400 each month. My 5-year-old is in school, but we have to pay breakfast club and after-school club fees. This is another £150 plus per term. Myself and my partner work full-time, and keeping up with payments is a massive struggle. We rely heavily on my mum who is in her 60s and also works, which is a huge strain on her. I think working parents need more support for children under 3.”

I completely agree with my constituent. I do hope that the Government will not put pride in front of accepting Labour’s plan for education recovery and the free breakfast and after-school clubs that would make a great difference to many working families.