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.
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.