Last week, I began the week with a challenge to the security at City Hall. Arriving for a meeting with the Mayor’s Education Advisor, I popped my bag onto the security x-ray machine. As it went through, the security guard asked me to explain the strange items at the bottom. Baffled, I looked intently at an orange and blue x-ray image. It meant nothing to me until prompted by the guard, at which point I realised it was two packets of dinner knives I had bought from Poundland to restock our depleted kitchen drawer at Central Office.
Luckily , they had a sense of humour and they allowed me to proceed which is just as well as I was back at City Hall on Friday for a Roundtable, led by Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, Joanne McCartney, to examine how we do more to address London’s Childcare Challenge, something I have already written about.
Right now I think London’s childcare and education sector is lucky that Mayor Sadiq Khan is taking our work seriously. He has no statutory duties but he is a powerful advocate for us and maybe he can help us get the public to understand just what it is we do. He certainly has embedded the idea that childcare is central to the life of the city. The phrase childcare as part of our infrastructure was very much in evidence.
This is important given the research findings that both the Family and Childcare Trust (FCT) and IPPR shared at the meeting. None of this was a surprise :
- Childcare in London remains unaffordable and that’s a huge issue as London is full of JAM
- Childcare costs in London are higher
- Childcare staff are leaving London along with the other care staff from police to fire officers, railway staff to teachers
- The higher the deprivation, the lower the quality (a point also made by the Social Mobility Sate of the Nation report last week)
- Existing subsidies are too diffused to make a cumulative financial contribution
- Universal threshold too low for expensive parts of London
- Maternal employment is lower in London
- Higher numbers of parents need atypical hours.
- The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is not taken up consistently
- Supply is an issue as 50% of Local Authorities are short of places for two year olds
What to do and some solutions? We need many more, so you’re welcome to send in answers on a postcard, but in the meantime here are a few that were shared :
- Better planning with more demands on Section 106 planning power
- Co-locate existing spaces (aren’t they children centres?)
- Make better use of devolved budgets
- Double the EYPP and make it easier to access
- New housing must include childcare as part of the initial planning design, not as an afterthought
- Co-commission health and education (good luck!)
- Use Transport For London (TfL) to advertise the message about the power of good quality
early years education
- Ensure nursery staff are considered “key workers” for housing
- Reduce the business rates
- Find some buildings we can use through the Community Asset Transfer legislation
- Build more housing for key working staff to stop the drain of key staff leaving the city.
- Provide reduced or subsidised travel for low paid key staff
But here are my top three :
- Advertise across TFL for Early Years staff
- Create special London keyworker Oyster Card deals
- Identify brownfield sites in London and build studio flats for staff working in essential London services and give nursery staff priority status.
And finally, we need to work together. London’s businesses need to be more involved to filter money, to train and develop our staff through Local Economic Partnerships. (LEPs). Sadiq is the chair of the London LEP.
Of course, ultimately what we need is for our Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to drive a campaign that brings alive the important role Early Years plays in contributing to the economic and social fabric of London.