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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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More Great Childcare? Don’t think so…

The delayed response to More Great Childcare (or ‘More Great Childcages’ as coined by Penny Tassoni) filled me with dread. I looked and saw it was 52 pages and I groaned. Should I bother to colour it in with my highlighter? Will Liz Truss be our Minister for much longer? Is it worth the effort given the fact that she may be promoted in October, leaving us to start all over again with a new Minister? (Maybe third time lucky!?)

However, I decided to dive in and plough through, and eventually by page 27 I could really start using that highlighter…

What is the response saying? Well, nothing new about affordable childcare – although it is scattered throughout with a subtext which says the cost of childcare will be reduced by putting all children from the age of two into school.

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To begin with it presents us with a consultation. Yep, another consultation: The Regulation of Childcare, with a response date of 30th September. Do not ignore this.

Then it starts to lay out what we already know step by step. First up is the tax free childcare for working families. A suggestion much trounced by the Resolution Foundation because it favours the well off and does little for the poor. It will not be phased in until autumn 2015, by which time we will have had an election so anything is possible. It will also be subject to consultation.

We are then introduced to the £200m announced in March 2013 by Nick Clegg. It is apparently a promise of help to address the introduction of Universal Credit. But guess what? It will also be subject to consultation.

Local authorities (also subject to consultation) will be expected to identify ‘hard to reach’ families and make sure they access the free offer.

Local authorities will no longer complete their own quality checks, nor will they add their own criteria on providers wanting to provide the free offer. New settings will be allowed to take ‘funded’ children before their first Ofsted inspection.

Local authorities can insist that providers with a ‘requires improvement’ tag will have to take up appropriate support as a condition of funding. (Let’s hope there is some support left.)

From September 2015 settings taking funded two year olds will need to be good or outstanding. (I hope Ofsted will have stopped downgrading us all by then because of random and irrelevant criteria, or there will be many two year olds without a nursery place.)

Childcare registration is to be reformed with greater emphasis on child safety and welfare. They are consulting at the moment but want one single set of requirements.

They will remove staff to child ratios and staff qualifications for wraparound care and after school care for children in full time education at school. (Apparently this is so they don’t have to operate the EYFS, but instead have a focus on safety only!!)

There will be more school provision – especially Free Schools and Academies – and schools can run whatever hours they like, so that should fit in nicely. Schools will not have to register to take two year olds.

So the main message here is that there is no more great childcare. We’ll just simply put our two year olds into school. Who pays the school, I am not sure. Is wraparound going to be free? The examples they use charge but at a lower rate – no doubt because of lower ratios (changes through the back door) and lower on-costs.

The future for our disadvantaged two year olds is that they will be in school. I hope this Government is happy to ignore all the research about good quality and the best environments for our most vulnerable children.

But if the politicians cannot understand the developmental benefits, maybe they will understand the economic consequences: if you try and cut corners for small children, there will soon enough be no return on your investment.

  • Simona McKenzie

    More Affordable Childcare contains a couple of welcome reforms in relation to tackling some of the unnecessary ‘red tape’ but on the whole it fails to address the real reason why the cost of childcare has been, apparently, rising.

    The Free Entitlement!!

    It remains at the same level as many years ago when it was introduced….it has never been index linked nor revised by the LAs who set their own formula to pass on to providers….and of course the Minister has refused to look at the ever rising costs for providers…with a degree in Economics she should have spotted immediately where the problem originated from.

    The FE is neither ‘free’ nor is an ‘entitlement’ but an unfair subsidy by providers who are themselves on low wages and often subsidise early education for well off parents…so it would have been good to reflect on this and rename the Free Entitlement with the ‘Early Education Subsidy’ !

    What an opportunity lost by the Minister who has travelled in all directions but failed to see that the very countries she is copying invest heavily in childcare leaving parents to pay very little. Here we have LAs setting a very low rate for early education and on top of that apparently ‘creaming off’ funds that are meant for frontline workers.

    Registered childminders have finally achieved ‘equality’ by being allowed to draw the funding for 2,3 and 4 year olds after years and years of ‘exclusion’ which has made the cost of childcare more expensive to those parents who were not lucky enough to have their child with an accredited and network belonging childminder !!

    So our campaigning to remove this discrimination imposed by the very LAs who are now quickly disappearing has paid off…. the Minister listened in this case or maybe she has realised that the vulnerable 2 year olds would not get a space by Sept 2013 unless she included the 71% of good/outstanding childminders in this scheme

    At the time I write some LAs refuse to give in to the new Guidance and continue to impose conditions on cms to access that funding and finally achieve the equality they very much denied us over the years!!

    Hoilday care was one of the problems the Minister had to tackle in her Childcare Commission…instead of looking at the actual assets she has in the shape of 54,000+ cms who could potentially help solve the crisis and have offered holiday care for over 30 years, she has decided to throw the problem at schools: open them up all year round, reduce their ‘red tape’ (not ours) and problem solved…we will see if the schools are ready to be as flexible as cms are and willing to bend to the parents flexible needs…in fact are schools prepared to be stretched to the limit 52 weeks of the year?

    Last but not least MAC continues its march towards ‘agencies’ ….more cms will be employed (current ones have a problem with occupancy in some areas so the new army will decimate us), they will access training and support and their quality raised (71% of cms already offer high quality and run a successful business) and the LAs will be free to be children’s champions??

    Well it appears that LAs are very much interested in becoming agencies themselves…now that’s intriguing.

    When funded to support cms they did not do their duty …now they want cms to register with their agency and pay them for support?…ironic I’d say!

    In addition, when Wilshaw announced last year that cms were too expensive to ‘register and inspect’, cms, myself included, immediately called for a review of our registration fee so we could pay our way and remain registered.

    If cost to Ofsted was the problem I wonder why the Minister failed to try this option first and put agencies on the back burner?

    or is it that HMCI does not want to inspect cms anymore and is very proactive in pushing agencies?

    I fear a conflict of interest here and cms left to wait for agencies to be sorted first before we know how we will be inspected in future…..sadly the praise the Minister lavished on cms when she was first promoted is turning sour.

    She will invade her ‘childcare market’ (new buzz word) with new cms who will have agencies do everything for them and stifle any aspirations of becoming a small entrepreneur and independently run their businesses but many will have the choice of becoming employed by the agencies themselves???

    So sadly at the end of a very worrying year we have no ‘evidence’ that these reforms will lower costs to parents but plenty that providers’ costs will continue to rise!!

    My plea to the rest of the sector is to support cms in our fight against agencies with the same strength and determination we, registered childminders, showed in support of your ratio campaign!!

  • Penny Webb

    As usual – well said June – why can’t those that are making these suggestions understand what it is that is wrong with More Great Childcare.?

    I admit that my personal use of the initials MGC especially after reading the response document can not be used publicly but start with More Government …….. (any number of words starting with C could be used)

    I suppose despair is now having an impact on my normal optimistic view that if put a strong enough case that common sense will prevail, research based evidence considered and the vast knowledge of the professionals who do the job – heeded.

    Maybe our best hope is that our minister does move on – hopefully well away from the education department – and we get someone who will listen – and if not too much to hope for will have an understanding of early years issues.

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