Worry less about what a Minister can do for us; it’s what we can do for the Minister that should matter

July 21st 2014

There is a cry from some parts of the sector, about a yet to be appointed Childcare Minister. Why? As a sector the meddling of politicians who are uninformed (except in that they were once themselves children and went to school) has not been entirely helpful.  Be honest, very few mourned the departure of our Minister, in fact we were all quite relieved. We never had a full and thoughtful philosophical discussion to agree how the two different policy drivers (employment and narrowing the gap) would actually achieve those better outcomes for children. The question has always remained confused; what do these outcomes actually look like?
So let me remind you of some of the policies pushed through with little regard for any opinions and opposed by the majority except for one or two self–serving members of our community.  Were you happy with:

– Introduction of child-minding agencies?

– Introduction of the EY teacher role?

– Removal of local authorities duty to support, advise and train those running good settings?

– Changes to funding criteria (based on Ofsted criteria only?)

– Introduction of baseline assessments from Reception?

– Removal of requirement for schools to register separately to take two year olds?

– Can you recruit apprentices with A – C GSCEs in Maths and English at breakneck speed?

Right ?! So what we really need now is the space to focus on what we do, what we need to do and what will work best for children in England. I would like to be able to say the UK but already we have four different approaches with variations in how the Scottish, Welsh and Irish approaches.  Interestingly, the policy drivers remain the same; supporting employment and narrowing the educational gap of our poorest children.

Currently, we are being deluged with pre-manifesto reports which are high on ambitious statements and low on detail. Remember, the devil is always in the detail and after 14 years of trying to apply a childcare strategy we know detail is the absolute essence of any successful policy. Asking for universal affordable childcare is easy, making it happen is what separates the boys from the men or in our case the girls from the women. We also need to get a clear one voice approach because some reports for example Children’s Centres reports actually contradict each other.  This is scary, particularly if we get another Minister who has no knowledge of the sector, who will want to establish their political voice using the newsworthy childcare platform.  It leaves a space which can be filled with a political ideology which may not be good for children and families.

To save you reading the emerging reports of which there are a deluge, here is my reading round up, there are more out there and lots to come. Don’t be surprised or demoralised when you are unsurprised by the content and wonder what difference did having a Minister for childcare have to these long and familiar policy objectives we have hardly dented.

Reading Round Up

Solutions still are depressingly local authority and statutory sector focused.  The ambitions outlined above are neither new or innovative.  They all focus on funding. What we need to is to be a much more disruptive influence which challenges the status quo.  We have , so far, failed to disrupt enough to actually get childcare funded correctly.   We have made some headway with Ofsted through the #OfstedBigConversation and we need to continue in this vein.  In his report on disruptive influences David Thorpe notes that network intelligence surpassed the capacity of bureaucratic organisation to support change, he also commented that the persistent failure of policymakers is its bias towards a rational mechanical world view and reliance on reductive quantitative metrics that came from an industrial legacy.

We have to really challenge some policy details which undermine fairness and equity such as the DSG process where lots of money is channelled.  The EY Premium is not the panacea people think, we need to manage it carefully so it does not replace existing additional funding support but is added to it. The argument about qualifications is too narrow and we need to look at CPD much more thoroughly.

We need to push the Public Health agenda much harder. We are not any closer to aligning health and education in the Early Years.  The role of employers is back on some agendas so let’s understand how that can be used to support families. Watch out for Margaret Hodge review of the last 14 years of childcare strategy and submit your views to the House Lords Select Committee on Childcare Affordability by the 15th August. In the meantime, tell me what you think? Am I unduly pessimistic or are we ready and on message to shape our own destiny?