Parental Choice attended the Policy Exchange today for the Minister of Education and Childcare, Elizabeth Truss‘ speech on “More great Childcare – raising quality and giving parents more choice.”. You can read the transcript of the speech yourself at http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/modevents/item/elizabeth-truss-mp-more-great-childcare.
For those of you not inclined to read the speech, in a nutshell, Ms Truss’s speech, given in response to last year’s Nutbrown’s report on childcare in the UK, set out the Government’s plans for early years childcare going forward, advocating that qualifications held by nursery workers and childminders needed to improve to match those of their counterparts in Continental Europe and the adult:child ratios of the numbers of children looked after by nurseries and childminders needed to increase.
To encourage higher qualified and better quality staff in nurseries, salaries would have to increase from the average of £6.60 per hour on average that staff were currently being paid. With regards to qualifications, “early years teaching qualifications” would be introduced from September 2014 and the term “Early Years Educator” would be introduced. These would have improved level 3 qualifications, which will offer strong practical experience and require candidates to have at least a C grade in English and maths GCSE. Such “early years educators’ would be encouraged to set up structured group care for 2 year olds to allow them to develop their numerical skills and vocabulary. Schools would be encouraged to offer early years childcare to ease the transition from nursery to primary school and the requirement to be separately registered for early years childcare would be abolished.
With respect to ratios, the current maximum number of children 2 years and under that an adult could look after in a nursery would change from 4 to 6 whilst for children under the age of one it would rise from three children per adult to four children per adult. It is important to note that these increases are NOT going to be obligatory and it will be up to each nursery manager to use his /her judgment as to whether to raise the relevant ratios within their nursery. Any increase would only be allowed where the nursery had sufficiently qualified staff.
As for childminders, Elizabeth Truss stated that the number of childminders in recent years has significantly decreased probably as a result of all the bureaucracy and admin involved in setting up a business to act as a childminder. Therefore to counter the training, payment collection, marketing and administration that childminders often face, childminder agencies would be set up to deal with all of this leaving childminders to look after children in a home – based environment. The ratios would also increase so that they could look after up to 4 children under the age of 5, with no more than 2 under the age of 1.
Ofsted alone would be the quality assessor of early years childcare, with local authorities stepping out of that position. This, it is hoped, will allow the £160 million which currently goes to local authorities on an annual basis and is often spent on duplicating the work that Ofsted does to go directly to the childcare providers themselves to deliver early education to three and four-year-olds.
Which brings us neatly on to the question of cost. If salaries are going to increase from an average of £13000 to £16000 per nursery worker as Ms Truss suggests, where is the extra money going to come from? Although nursery providers will get a share of the £160 million that is currently going to local authorities, is this going to be enough to fund the increase in wages? Is it expected that the increase in children that can be cared for will fund the difference? Whilst we agree that raising the quality of early years education is laudable and necessary for our children, working parents are finding it hard to cope right now and any extra burden is not going to increase the number of children in childcare, it will reduce the number of working parents in work.
Parental Choice asked Ms Truss at the Policy Exchange whether the sums would be published to explain how childminders and nursery workers were going to be able to look after more children, increase their salaries and gain vital training without the cost being passed on to working parents in some way.
The question remains unanswered ……
- Nursery and childcare reform plans announced: Politics live blog (guardian.co.uk)
- Childcare Reforms: Plan To Ease Soaring Costs (news.sky.com)
- Nursery workers must have GCSEs in maths and English under new government plans (metro.co.uk)
- Nursery ratios raised to cut childcare costs (schoolsimprovement.net)