Early years sector leaders have welcomed the appointment of Kelly Tolhurst as the Minister for Schools and Childhood, expressing the hope that it shows a “growing recognition” that “the early years is a vital part of the education system”.

In July, we reported that she had been appointed as an education minister, as schools minister Will Quince moved to the Department of Health. Tolhurst, a former housing minister who is MP for Rochester and Strood, is the first junior minister to be appointed to the Department for Education under new prime minister, Liz Truss.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: "We hope that the fact that early years now sits within the remit of a minister of state, rather than a parliamentary under-secretary, signifies a growing recognition within government that the early years is a vital part of the education system.

“That said, given the broad nature of Ms Tolhurst's portfolio, it is vital that the early years is not overlooked or de-prioritised in favour of schools policy.” Mr Leitch called for Ms Tolhurst to put pressure on the Treasury for more investment in the early years.

He added: “When it comes to government policy, all too often, the early years is treated as an afterthought, with education only seen as something that starts at the school gates. We hope Ms Tolhurst will use her new role as an opportunity to challenge that narrative and champion the early years sector, both in terms of how the sector is viewed, and critically, the investment it receives.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) also welcomed the appointment, saying “it’s good to see that early years education is being joined with school education at ministerial level. Early years must be given equal priority to schools.”

“Our early years sector is a cornerstone of the economy. Without nurseries, millions of parents would not be able to work or train and children would miss out on high quality learning opportunities at a crucial stage of their development. Working parents could add over £10 billion to our economy if we address the failures of the current childcare policy.

“But if they cannot remain sustainable, we expect to see more and more nursery closures, meaning fewer places especially in areas of deprivation where children gain the most from early education.

“The new Minister and her team must take control of this situation and put measures in place to reverse this downward spiral. The first five years count when it comes to our children and government policy and investment needs to reflect this.”

Kelly Tolhurst was first elected in 2015, when she beat former UKIP MP Mark Reckless to the Kent seat he had won the year before in a byelection. She has served in a string of junior ministerial jobs, including small business minister, aviation and maritime minister and minister for housing and rough sleeping. Following the resignation of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher earlier this year, Tolhurst took on the role until her promotion to education minister.

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