Those that know me will know I can't resist a Disney connection but sadly this is not a fun filled article, it is a serious one that has huge repercussions for the childcare industry.
When I first opened a nursery 23 years ago, the qualification needed by staff was the NNEB (Nursery Nurse Examination Board), to enter this course you needed to achieve minimum grades in English and Maths and take an English speaking exam. The course content was such that when students completed their studies they were highly sought after in the world of Nannying (a sole person in charge of the care, well-being and development of children, potentially from birth), which for a very good friend of mine meant working for some very important people around the world and earning herself the reputation of 'a real-life Mary Poppins'.
Fast forward 20 years though and things are very different. I chair a Hertfordshire Childcare Forum Group and there has been a common thread to all of our discussions recently - "Where are all the qualified staff?"
Everyone is desperate for good qualified Level 3 (NVQ) staff.
Government recently changed the requirements for entry on to the Level 3 course - you now have to a have a minimum grade C in English and Maths. Personally, I don't think that is far enough.
The Early Years is a very undervalued and down-trodden profession of late. I have heard careers advisors say 'if you can't do anything else why not do childcare". I am horrified!! To be a teacher of children from 5 years old you have to undertake a teaching degree, no one argues there, but to care for the under 5's where the very foundation of ALL skills is developed, and in particular in their first year, the requirements are only just a grade C in Maths and English? This in itself is undervaluing the profession and the well-being of children!
To make matters worse both the course content and the EYFS (Early Year's Foundation Stage) Framework, which is the Government's own development programme, is appalling and the root cause of the current trend of development regression we are seeing and the constant berating of childcare and nurseries in the media!
I am not being derogatory to those currently in the childcare profession, I have absolutely fantastic staff that are very dedicated and passionate and they have earned their positions and professional status through hard work, dedication and constant training. I am sure that all other setting owners would agree. However, when leaving college now, after a much shorter course time, their knowledge base is nowhere near what it needs to be (or used to be) and much more on the job training is needed (costing nurseries more time and money). Many good and outstanding settings provide this, however some don't and staff are just expected to jump in at the deep end.
Government have not listened over the past 10 years or so to those of us on the ground highlighting these issues, so we are now almost at a point of no return. Funding and budgets have been cut so severely over the years that most settings could not afford to pay for their current employees to undertake further training to raise the standards and many of those employees now have their own families and commitments and would also find it hard to do. In addition, as highlighted in my letter to David Cameron last year, over half of those leaving school last year did not achieve even a grade C in Maths or English and most of those that did would not consider the childcare profession as it is so undervalued.
So what about the next generation of childcare professionals and my quest for 'Mary Poppins'. Well, just to reiterate the point - our local college, Herts Regional College only have 12 students completing their Level 3 this year.
We are continually forced to follow the EYFS which in itself is damaging to children's development. We are also forced to accept Government policies on Free 15 hours education, which is grossly underfunded and will also be forced to accept the new additional 15 hours free childcare which is likely also to be grossly underfunded. However, the Government could find £3million pounds to go to an organization just to administer the new 30hrs funding scheme, which is outrageous. Childcare is not VAT Zero-rated, like it should be (due to EU restraints) and all previous subsidies on business rates etc have been withdrawn over the years.
The childcare and nursery nurse profession is in crisis. In answer to my question "where has Mary Poppins gone? The answer I am afraid is not good.