What working parent wouldn't welcome the prospect of 30 free hours childcare a week?
The final stages of the Childcare Bill are going through Parliament at the moment - from September 2017, the working parents of 3- and 4-year olds are set to see their free early education entitlement double from 15 to 30 hours for 38 weeks a year. But the question is, can the early years workforce cope?
The 400,000 plus practitioners working in the sector are a workforce under strain. A survey of more than 2,000 childminders, nursery workers and managers conducted by PACEY last year revealed that childcare professionals are highly motivated by the work they do and heavily relied on by parents, but with increasing demands on their role and poor levels of pay, confidence in the sector is low. Around one in five childcare providers told us they were unsure whether they'd be working in childcare in a year's time.
Doubling the free entitlement is an ambitious step, much welcomed by families who have struggled with the cost of childcare. The Government's recent announcement to increase the average rate for registered providers to offer this service is welcome acknowledgment of the underfunding the sector has experienced for many years. But the challenge now is to ensure this increased funding actually reaches the frontline. Without this the people delivering these childcare places - those individuals who every day strive to create happy, supportive settings in which children can thrive, learn and grow - will not be able to cover the cost of providing the high quality care and learning that children deserve.
A career in early years should not be a less well paid, lower status and less skilled job than working with older children. Mounting evidence shows the first few years of a child's life are where you can make the most difference to their future wellbeing and success. That is why PACEY will continue to work with Government, alongside our colleagues in the early years sector, to work towards a better deal for childcare professionals.
If Government wants to be able to deliver on its ambitious childcare plans, it will need a motivated, highly qualified and well-rewarded early years workforce. The year ahead offers some exciting opportunities to make some tangible improvements for the sector and, more importantly, all those two year olds who will be the first to benefit from the 30 hours extension when they turn three.
The nation relies on childcare providers to support parents to work and to help them give their children the best start in life. At PACEY we want to see greater recognition for the vital part early years practitioners play in shaping future generations.
Read PACEY's policy paper Towards an Early Years Workforce Development Strategy for England (link).