On the face of it, for anyone working in early years and childcare the decision to leave the EU could seem to have little impact. We have limited EU regulation to deal with and, aside from the ongoing debate about whether Brexit will help or hinder the UK economically, most of our dealings have been on issues firmly in the control of national governments and regulators. But dig a little deeper and you realise Brexit could exacerbate some very real challenges for early years and childcare. Challenges that we at PACEY, along with others in the sector, have been working hard to resolve.
Firstly, anyone working in childcare and early years will tell you that many of their colleagues are from European countries. In a sector struggling to recruit staff to provide high quality childcare to children and families today, immigration has in some communities played an important part in helping providers sustain their services for children and families. We all know the number of students taking relevant early years qualifications is in decline (due to Westminster imposed barriers to entry). This is already making it extremely difficult to recruit people to work in many childcare settings. The end of the free movement of people across the EU may well make it more challenging, just at a time when the sector needs to expand to support government commitments to deliver 30 hours of free early education to eligible families from next year.
Like it or not, many young people do not choose to work in early years. It has remained an undervalued, poorly rewarded career choice for many years. PACEY has long worked to resolve this and is clear what has to be done to help rectify this. For example, improved career pathways that allow Early Years Teachers to have Qualified Teacher Status; the inclusion of robust functional skills qualifications as equivalents to GCSE Maths and English grade C so more people can qualify as an Early Years Educator. These two actions alone would go a long way to improving the career development opportunities for people entering the profession and to easing the current recruitment challenges. Fair funding levels for the delivery of the free entitlement are also key, as only then will the pay and reward qualified practitioners receive start to recognise the vital role they play.
The second challenge is all about priorities. Politicians' and policy makers' time will be dominated by efforts to unravel our EU membership and negotiate a new settlement. PACEY's concern is that this may slow down other important policy developments that should provide real benefit to children and families. The referendum itself has already had that impact. It's likely more of the same will occur over the next few months. When will the long-awaited childcare workforce strategy now be published? It could help tackle the recruitment crisis providers are experiencing now. Might the anticipated consultation on the schools funding formula also be delayed? And will plans to extend the free entitlement to 30 hours a week for eligible children and families slow down too? With so many in the sector working hard to make this offer work for families and providers, we cannot lose momentum now.
It is clear over the last few days that much is changing for the UK following this historic decision. Through changes of leadership, changes of approach, there is a real challenge for the politicians who will shape our future outside of the EU. Namely to hold on to their commitments made at the last election and, among other promises, deliver the childcare support so many families need to balance work and home; as well as to invest in early years so that all our children, including the most disadvantaged, get the best start they deserve for our brave new world.