Childcare hit the headlines again last week with the news that the government is planning to offer parents new help with the cost of childcare from 2015. But here at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) we know parents care as much about the quality of childcare their children receive, as the cost. The Government is looking to improve quality and reduce cost but, as our childminder, nanny and nursery worker members know, quality childcare costs!
Our research shows that frontline childcare staff - nannies, childminders and nursery workers - are struggling with low pay and status. Whilst they join the childcare profession because they love working with children and gain professional satisfaction from supporting a child's early development, low pay and status means most of them end up leaving the profession. This is bad news for children, who do best when they are receiving high quality care from a consistent adult.
The issue of low pay leads to many of the best childcare professionals leaving the sector, as they look to find positions where their skills are better appreciated and valued. It is also low pay and poor status that means many young graduates never consider a role in childcare at all. It is frustrating for experienced and qualified staff to be faced with the stereotypes that portrait childcare as a menial job, only suitable for those who can't do other things. This is simply not the case; research show that the first few years of a child's life are crucial to ensuring their future success at school and in life, so it is essential that highly qualified and skilled individuals are delivering their care and early learning. PACEY's research shows that the vast majority of childcare professionals are both well qualified and ambitious to undertake further study. They know it will help them do the best for the children in their care.
In recent weeks, the debate around reducing childcare costs and improving quality has been confused. This has been most evident in the More Great Childcare proposals to increase adult:child ratios in nurseries and to change them in childminding settings. This is the clearest indication yet that for the Coalition government, cost is the biggest driver for change, not quality.
When Professor Cathy Nutbrown published her review of the early year's sector last summer we were excited to see her call to action on improving qualifications in the sector, which would also improve the status of childcare professionals. But the Government's recent More Great Childcare report which proposes changes to ratios and the introduction of childminder agencies is unlikely to protect the quality and standards of the sector.
Alongside tackling childcare costs for working families, I believe Government must do more to improve how it funds childcare providers. So they can better deliver the universal free entitlement to early education that all three and four year olds currently receive and, from later this year, 40% of all two year olds will also be given. By ensuring funding, reaches frontline providers, as well as parent, the sustainability of the sector will be improved. At present the cost of delivering the free entitlement is not covered by the fee most local authorities pay direct to providers.
In turn providers will have more resources to be able to invest in recruiting graduate staff and in developing the dedicated professionals already working in the sector without the need to increase costs to parents or increase ratios. As the consultation on the proposals to increase ratios closes this week, it is clear that the suggestions have been roundly rejected by childcare setting owners, employers and childcare professionals. They see it as damaging the quality of care children receive, without any tangible evidence that it will lead to a reduction in costs for parents. Let's hope the Coalition Government listens to these concerns.