Where is the best place for a two year old to be? Not the cheapest, or the most efficient, or the most economically productive, but the best. For the child.
Running through a field, shouting with joy, the wind in your hair. Your family all around. Stomping in mud. Meeting and playing with friends. Hiding. Pretending. Building dens. Climbing, sliding, swinging at the park. Running inside when it rains. Playing with toys. Eating, drinking, listening, listening, talking. Getting warm and snugly in front of the fire. Books, stories, cuddles. Love.
If you start with the child then the answer to the question is ‘a great home environment’. That’s what early years educators spend their lives trying to recreate. Clearly life is not always like that. We have to earn a living, we might want a career, some parents are not able to create a ‘great’ home environment. So you work outwards until you find the best alternative. Until you alight on the first thing that you can afford. The closest thing to ‘home’. As new parents, our thinking process went: stay at home (can’t afford it), work part time (need at least some childcare), ask grandma (too far to drive), find a nanny (can’t afford it), find a child minder (none around), find a nursery/preschool (phew, that’s great). At no point did we think ‘Hey, let’s find a school, our two year old would look so cute in a tiny uniform!’ This is nothing against schools, but they are not your first thought as the parent of a two year old. School comes later on.
It worries me that government sees the early years as the place for some kind of mass social experiment. Yes, moving people out of poverty through education is a great aim, but first perhaps we could think about closing the gap between what we pay people? You do not construct a childcare system based on evidence of its impact in monetary terms, its efficiency for the masses, or its cost. You start with the child. Is that so very difficult?