The Government made childcare a central component of its election manifesto. Mr Cameron insists that his Government will extend the childcare ‘free offer’ to 30 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, to any parent working eight hours plus; the same threshold as the tax free childcare scheme. It’s interesting that the policy talks of childcare not early education, is this a shift or has the Government finally understood that childcare and education are totally integrated?
This promise has deep implication for the sector including making childcare a key part of the British infrastructure. It’s a shift that may have happened as a last minute election promise to outbid Labour’s offer of 25 free hours. Either way we are now facing the challenge of how we make this policy work and we need our own conversation to help us to do this.
Frustratingly, this promise fails to reflect the repeated warnings from the sector about the perennial problems such as:
- Funding the costs of a place correctly. ( If you have been asleep for the past ten years then read the Ceeda Report and the Affordable Childcare report)
- Reconciling two different policy targets with one approach therefore creating a high quality service for all children but guaranteeing that those children from disadvantaged backgrounds are benefitting in a way that narrows their attainment gap. More information from OECD Starting Strong Reports
- Insufficiency of places in the right areas and with the flexibility that makes work viable Family and Childcare Trust report
- Unfair rules about registering and inspecting nurseries in schools which means that schools can open nurseries more easily now and have less inspection and external quality control.
- The challenge of how to address the situation that 1 in 4 children in Primary Schools are obese. The Early Years must be supported to take a strategic approach to helping the children eat well and exercise well so we prevent even more health disasters.
- Training and recruiting enough Level 3 staff for such an expansion including sorting out the qualifications fiasco. Do you know that all the young graduates completing their degrees may not be counted in the nursery ratio because they haven’t got A to C GCSEs but have been selected using an equivalency test not approved by the DfE?
- Replacing and funding Local Authorities CPD and quality support services. If quality depends on well trained staff then what is the solution to this?
- Maintaining the year on year improvement in quality with 83% of providers rated good or outstanding. So why bully a sector that shows such promise and capability for improvement?
- Meeting the two year old programme targets if all the attention is focusing on extending the 30 hours. Half all local authorities have insufficient places for two year olds and the growth of school nurseries is hampered by increase in school rolls. So if disadvantaged children benefit more than other children why have a system that limits access for the very children that need us most?
- Getting the Childcare Bill through the House of Lords within the timeline for pilots operating from September 2016
- Agreeing what the Regulations will look like given the devil is in the detail for example defining ‘working parents.’ Will it include people in training? Zero hours contracts? Parents with disabled children? Grandparents?
- Establishing whether the existing policy of 15 hours has achieved its intended outcomes.
However, we have been thrown a concession in the form of the Childcare Commission LINK to appease our worries about fair funding. I hope that they will listen to us with the same candidness and perspicacity of Lord Sutherland and his Select Committee.
The 30 hour policy is the Government’s attempt to reward hard-working families by reducing their childcare bill. Done well it will be popular and helpful and may achieve its intention to boost employment rates among women with children under 5 years. Long term employment rate for this group has risen over the last two decades from 49% in 1996 to 61% in 2014. In doing that the Government has confirmed absolutely that childcare is a significant part of a modern British infrastructure.
Surprisingly, we may have an unexpected ally in Mr Osborne. In the Budget he promises the Living Wage, a calculation based on what it costs to live developed ten years ago by Citizens UK. This must surely be a very good benchmark for the Childcare Commission as they work to define a funding strategy that pays the full cost of childcare.
In the meantime, we are strong only when we have one voice – we proved that with the #OBC.
So respond to the Childcare Commission and come to the *Big Childcare Conversation conference on the 19th September at Middlesex University where we will be debating the issues and ensure we remain motivated, upbeat and able to “Occupy Childcare”!