We live in a time of big changes: unprecedented globalisation, new technologies, and a shifting balance of global economic power.
As the research of the Resolution Foundation shows, these powerful forces are changing how we work - and what we do.
It’s making the link between education and earnings much stronger - because a tech-led, outward-facing economy rewards the highly-skilled.
The OECD, for example, says that the association between education scores and GDP growth increased by a third from 1960 to 1980 and 1980 to 2000.
And the pay and prospects of families are changing, too.
Across the developed world, it has become the norm for both parents to work. In 60% of 2-parent families in the OECD, both parents work. And the concept of work itself is changing - becoming more flexible. People change jobs more often - and mums and dads use different combinations of work - sometimes holding down 2 or more jobs.
Day in day out, they’re taking decisions about how they structure work - while also raising happy, successful children.
For anyone that’s ever rushed home from a meeting to the school gates, or sat down to work out how to balance family time and family bills - they’ll know that this often feels like a challenge.
But I think these conditions present an opportunity.
Because a changing economy means that parents need affordable, available childcare more than ever.
A changing world means that children need a rigorous, rounded education more than ever.
The opportunity is to join those 2 things together - so that we achieve both.
Get it right, and we help parents - and give children a good start in life.
That is the potential of an education and childcare system that works.
And that’s why we’re reforming education, and reforming childcare.
Longer school day
Because at the moment, some children are falling behind.
Since 2010, the number of children in failing schools has dropped - by a quarter of a million. But we still have a long tail of poor academic performance.
And it’s not just academic performance. Whether it’s simple things like not having space to do homework - or big things like not being encouraged into core academic subjects - we have a long-term issue with low social capital - of pupils who lack the cultural knowledge or network to succeed.
And for parents, we know things are often frustrating.
Listen to the blogger Rebecca Allen, a researcher at the Institute of Education, talking about what happens when schools close in mid-afternoon:
I am resigned to spending many afternoons each week standing at the school gate, driving my children to extra-curricular clubs, sitting reading my Twitter feed while the club is running, driving them home and preparing their tea while they watch TV. Yes, it is great for families to spend quality time together, but this doesn’t feel like good quality time to me.
Some children left behind - some parents feel unsupported.
This is why Michael Gove announced last week that a future Conservative government would help state schools - just like independent schools - to offer a school day 9 or 10 hours long.
That extra time would help children who might otherwise slip. It would provide a safe, supervised place to do homework - and in particular, ensure everyone masters the core academic subjects - maths, English, sciences, languages, history and geography subjects that wealthier families have always encouraged their children into - and that our competitors like Germany and Poland now mandate for all children to at least 16.
And at the same time, it would help all children build character, confidence and resilience. It would provide time for debating, cadets, orchestras, drama, volunteering, getting employers in to develop technical skills and get ready for the world of work - things that nurture rounded young people - activities that wealthier families often take for granted.
And for parents who want to work, an extended school day makes balancing work and care much easier.
Of course, some schools do it already.
Like Great Yarmouth Primary School. Their school day runs from 9 to 5 for years 3 and 4, and to 6pm for years 5 to 6 - using that time to provide team sports, drama, extra maths, and supervised homework clubs.
Or Bourne Abbey Church of England in Lincolnshire. They’re a converter academy, offering provision, from 7:30am to 6pm. They’re rated outstanding.
They show you can expand children’s horizons, and support working parents.
It’s good to see teaching leaders like Russell Hobby recognise this. As he said, the current schedule of intense periods and long breaks doesn’t necessarily work for teachers, either. He welcomed a debate over an extended school day - because it’s not about teachers being on their feet long into the evening.
It’s about the fact that we have school buildings across the country, sitting empty for hours of each day. The fact that children need a broad, rounded education - which too many are currently denied. The fact that parents struggle to do the school to care run.
It’s about seeing results for children and support for parents as part of the same question.
So we’re making it easier for schools
So today, I am delighted to announce sweeping reform of the regulations around the school day and childcare.
We publish our response to a consultation, outlining plans for a simplification and improvement of the rules.
And that will make it easier for schools to offer a longer school day.
At the moment, if they want to bring in an external provider to run on-site care, they have to do new registrations. If they want to offer extensions of the school day, they have to struggle through a different set of staffing rules, different qualification rules, local consultations, and local authority permissions.
So we’re making the staffing requirements for out-of-hours the same - so that the school doesn’t need to worry about changing the numbers of staff, just because the clock’s struck 4.
We’re improving the child development guidance, so they don’t need to worry about meeting unnecessary rules about pedagogy and instruction.
And we’re removing unnecessary central rules around setting up after school clubs - so if they want to bring in an external childcare provider, they don’t have to worry about a pile of new paperwork.
Childcare outside schools
And we also want to makes it easier for the childcare around the school day, too.
At the moment, for example, childminders can’t operate outside homes.
So in future, they’ll be able to. If schools want to bring them in, they can just do it.
And at the moment, parents aren’t allowed to pay a neighbour, or relative, if they want them to look after their children for more than 2 hours - unless they register with Ofsted.
That’s just daft - especially when the gap between school finishing and work ending is more or less 2 hours exactly.
So the plans released today make it easier, increasing the time they can rely on informal care from 2 to 3 hours.
So a longer school day; making it easier for schools to offer childcare; more sensible regulations.
All of these things help parents.
Whatever combination of work and care is right for them - they should feel confident there’s an option.
Quality in childcare
We are also improving childcare for the under 5s - as well as raising the quality of provision.
All the evidence suggests once an attainment gap opens up, it’s hard to close later in life. At the moment, by the time they start school, poorer children are a full 18 months behind their richer peers in vocabulary development. It would be better to think about preventing the gap in the first place.
That requires high-quality staff and pedagogy suited to the age of the child.
The psychologist Daniel Willingham notes that it’s not a simple choice between academic or fun activities. Often, they’re the same thing. As he says:
Songs and rhyming games…help children hear that words are composed of individual sounds, making it easier to learn how to read letters.
Kids gain knowledge about the world - important for reading comprehension in later elementary years - when they are read to.
Jigsaw puzzles and globes help kids develop spatial skills, which later help with math.
Household rules teach children to learn to control their impulses, part of learning self-discipline.
And these activities need teachers to lead them.
Already, we’ve seen a 25% increase in the number of early years teachers recruited, when you compare September 2012 to 2013. We’ve introduced English and maths requirements, so that staff are themselves confident and have reached a minimum standard.
But we should also think about how providers structure their operation, too.
If they’re ambitious and smart, they can spend less money on overheads, make better use of their buildings, drive up their occupancy rates.
Meaning there’s more money to spend on high-quality staff.
And we know that containing costs doesn’t have to mean low quality. We know that other countries, like France or Germany, have excellent systems, for comparable amounts of government spending - while also paying staff good salaries and keeping parents’ costs affordable.
And we’re seeing it happen in England, too.
There are some great school nurseries out there. That are open 8 to 6. That offer affordable care. And that deliver outstanding quality.
Take schools like St Bede Primary Academy or Parbold Douglas Academy, in the North West. They are rated outstanding by Ofsted. They use highly qualified staff.
And because they’re smart about their sessions, their staffing and their costs - it only costs these schools about £6,000 a year to provide each place. Direct comparisons are difficult, but average for the North West as a whole is something like £9,000.
So not only do these schools help children: they help parents.
We want more school nurseries to have similar ambitions.
That’s why we are providing an £8 million fund to London local authorities - where costs are particularly acute - to extend their opening hours.
We’re working with 49 different schools as they offer places for 2-year-olds - seeing what works for their pupils and parents, and how school premises can be used to offer nursery places
And just imagine if all school nurseries opened longer. About two-fifths of all places provided in London are in school nurseries. Across the country, some 30% of all childcare is in school nurseries.
If they all went from 9 to 3 to 8 to 6 - that’s over a 60% increase in childcare hours at school nurseries.
Private nurseries and chains
And it’s not just school nurseries we want to see expand.
We’re backing high-quality private nurseries and chains, too.
We’re ending planning restrictions - so they can convert buildings without extra bureaucracy.
We’re simplifying funding - so that good or outstanding providers automatically get money.
And in the reforms announced today, we’re removing unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape - allowing providers to register multiple premises in one go.
All of that makes it easier for the best nurseries to grow - which in turn, makes it easier to provide quality care, and keep bills for parents low.
Of course, private providers have some extra costs, like VAT.
But it can be done.
Like Cedar Road nursery, in Northamptonshire, that I visited last week. I saw children toasting marshmallows by a campfire - learning and having fun. The local MP Michael Ellis and I were shown around by the Director, Tom Shea - and we were served some play dough ice creams, children learning counting and gross motor skills. Their staff are well-trained, and well-paid. It’s rated outstanding.
But what was really impressive was that they used their resources so well. They had 150 children on their books. They had reduced paperwork and recording to spend more time interacting with the children. And they had a capable manager - who could justify the progress children were making to Ofsted, without needing daily or weekly notes.
If we look at childminders, we can see similar issues.
Many are low-paid. Many struggle to fill their hours. Many have high costs for things like marketing or buying equipment - an average of £3,600 per year. We know that we have fewer younger childminders entering the profession - and it costs about £800 just to become a childminder.
So we’re helping by first, simplifying funding - so that any good or outstanding childminder automatically gets access to funding to provide free early education.
And second, we’re helping establish childminder agencies. So that the admin burden - marketing, accountancy, equipment, training, registration - is shared, so childminders spend less time on paperwork, and can concentrate on what they want to do - look after children.
About 20 organisations are trialling the agency model. We have schools, private enterprises, local authorities and a children’s centre - working out how they can help childminders, and meet parent’s needs in their local area.
Because we want more good childminders - both independent and agency.
Whole market working together
But crucially - whether it’s schools, private providers, nurseries or childminders - we want the system to work as a whole.
In schools, one of the big lessons of academy trusts and school chains is that they can drive up standards faster - by sharing resources, and learning quickly from each other, and stronger schools lending help to weaker.
By encouraging chains and expansion in nurseries and school nurseries, I hope we see the same pattern in early years.
And we want all providers to work together. So our rules move us towards a system that is much clearer and more coherent.
In registration - it makes no sense to have 3 separate, overlapping safeguarding requirements - so that childcare workers have to spend time working out which requirements apply to which registers.
So we want to make it simpler - with 1 set of aligned requirements.
In inspection, it makes little sense to have different requirements and rules for different providers.
So we want to make it simpler - with a much more coherent, flexible inspection framework.
Because we think of education as 1 system - and will work further with the National College of Teaching and Leadership and Ofsted towards a system where from 2 to 18, teachers have the same respect, the rules are equally clear, quality is equally valued, and parents are equally supported.
Things are moving in the right direction.
Last month we published our annual survey of parents. Those parents told us that hourly costs for nurseries were about 6% lower in 2012 to 2013 than 2011 to 2012 - and childminders, about 11%. It showed that low-income parents were accessing more childcare by 16%. And it showed that maternal employment had gone up.
And other surveys are encouraging, too - like the National Day Nurseries Association which showed more than half their members had frozen fees - or the recent study by Laing & Buisson finding that there has been no real growth in costs for the second year running.
That’s good - but we are not complacent. And our reforms aim to secure and advance these positive numbers.
Because as I said when I started - the world is changing.
Families are feeling the impact of a growing, changing economy.
We want the highest of expectations for early years education. We want schools that excel at academic performance and also give confidence and resilience. We want education and childcare providers that respond to the modern world, and the way families live.
We want a system where not only can parents chose the life they want - get the balance of work and care that’s right for them - but can be confident their children are getting a rich, broad and effective education.
Support for parents, and a good education for children. That’s the opportunity - and that’s what our reforms aim to achieve.