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29 January 2013
Commenting on the Government’s childcare plans announced today Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of Voice: the union for education professionals, which represents early years and childcare professionals, said:
“The Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
“We welcome the raising of qualification standards and the Government’s recognition of childcare as a profession – which we have been promoting and calling for for many years.
“However, what has been announced so far will not reduce the price parents pay for childcare, while changing the ratios will cut corners and compromise children’s safety and the quality of provision.
“It is important that childcarers should be well qualified and better paid, but qualifications do not give a nursery professional an extra pair of eyes or hands. While childcarers would welcome higher wages they do not want this to be at the expense of children’s safety and care.
“When children are hurt as a result, the responsibility will be the Department’s for not listening to advice and there will be demands for existing ratios to be restored.
“The staff child ratio for 3-5 year olds is 1:8. However, good practice for years has dictated 1:6 – which many providers have followed, or have done in the past. We would be very concerned about a ratio of 1:6 or 1:4 for younger and more vulnerable children.
“European models of care are not necessarily culturally and economically appropriate for our society. We should not be lowering our standards. We have to be concerned, given the lack of any evidence to support a relaxation of ratios, about the impact that relaxation would have on quality.
“The as-yet-unpublished report of the Government’s own advisers said that relaxing ratios would lead to a ‘deterioration’ in the quality of care and would not help parents to reduce their costs.
“How can the minister claim that standards will be raised when the Government is intent on lowering some of them?
“If fewer, but better paid, staff are employed, that will not reduce the overall cost for parents. Where is the incentive for nurseries to employ more qualified staff and pay them more highly?
“The greatest cost to the industry is that of recruiting or training staff to a high level and then rewarding them appropriately – paying a salary that is consistent with the level of skill, knowledge and responsibility of a highly qualified professional.
“If childcare providers charged true costs, very few people would be able to afford them and the industry would collapse.
“Balancing cost and affordability is at the heart of this and the Government has to get it right – if quality standards are to be improved.
“Our concerns remain that investment is needed to train staff.
“We eagerly await further announcements on how the higher qualifications and training will be funded. If the workforce has to fund it themselves, they will not see an increase in their salaries.
“We are concerned that, without Qualified Teacher Status for Early Years Teachers, there will be a two-tier system.
“It is also important that Early Years Professional Status should not be downgraded and become the poor relation of teaching. Most Early Years Professionals (EYPs) are not frustrated teachers, they are qualified childcare professionals in their own right and they want to be recognised for that and given a proper career and qualifications structure. They don’t want to be on the bottom of rung of the education career ladder as a ‘teacher’s assistant’.
“Voice is also concerned about the potential for further “schoolification” of early childhood with the report’s emphasis on ‘traditional nursery classes’ of 13. Voice has long been concerned about a “too much too soon” culture and an advocate of a play-based early years curriculum in nurseries, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets – whether that is in a nursery or a school setting.
“I have reservations about the removal of separate Ofsted registration. Do many schools want to take two-year-olds and are they ready to do so? Parents are not guaranteed that their children will get a place in reception class.
“Raising standards of qualification and training must also go hand-in-hand with robust management and leadership procedures in nursery settings.”