Today, the Education Select Committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Department for Education, published a report on the inquiry it launched into support for childcare and the early years in England.
Whilst it welcomes the Government’s focus on childcare in the Spring Budget, it warns there is more work to do and should consider wider policy changes to ensure children benefit from high quality, affordable childcare and help parents and providers who are struggling. The report particularly highlights the struggles providers face with funding and trying to break even/stay afloat.
On declining childminder numbers
PACEY member Kara Jewell, who gave evidence at the inquiry, noted that ‘“When I started, there were about 60,000 childminders. Within 10 years, that is set to be 1,000. It is a real worry”. Kara, a Childminder and Director of Sparkle Lodge Early Years told the inquiry that “it is not a good time to be opening a nursery” and that she has been unable to take a wage for herself.
PACEY Chief Exec, Helen Donohoe told the inquiry that “people are leaving because they can earn more money in a more flexible environment in an Amazon warehouse or a supermarket”. She also said that fewer people are joining the sector because of the lack of obvious career progression: “for a young person at a school or college, there is no sense that this is a valued career or a recognised career to go into”.
There are a number of recommendations in the report, including:
- Government should increase the childcare entitlement subsidy for providers:
- The Committee heard significant concerns that childcare entitlements have been underfunded by the Government for years, and some witnesses feared that extending the ‘free hours’ entitlement without adequate funding would see more providers go bust due to the losses they make offering the entitlement places. The Government has announced £204 million to address the current funding deficit, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies said this fails to address previous years of underfunding.
- DfE should stop describing the 30-hours offer as ‘free hours’ and instead refer to it as ‘funded' or 'subsidised' hours. Parents felt the ‘free’ label was misleading, as the hours were only offered in term time and providers often had to charge higher for additional hours or other consumables to make up the funding deficit.
- Abolish business rates for nurseries
- The Committee recommends that all nurseries should be exempted from business rates and zero-rated for VAT in recognition of their role in delivering a key Government policy.
- Childcare settings tend to pay high business rates due to requiring large amounts of space under regulations in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Statutory Framework there are widespread concerns that if they expand to meet the additional demand implied by the extension of funded hours, this will see rates rise even higher.
- Staff:child ratios
- Most contributors to the inquiry and the Government’s consultation were opposed to the proposal to staff:child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 and argued this would lead to or be perceived by parents to lead to a reduction in quality. Speech and Language UK said the change would lead to “normalising an insufficient level of staff”. Amongst providers there was little evidence of a demand for this change and parents generally supported lower ratios.
- The Committee recommends this reform be closely monitored and reversed if quality and education outcomes suffer.
- Simplify Tax-Free Childcare offer
- The Committee calls for a “fundamental review” of the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, which was notably absent from the Spring Budget announcements.
- The scheme offers working families 20% off childcare costs, or up to £2,000 per child per year, but it is seen as complex and is underused. Its forecasted cost in 2019 was £865m, but only £236m was issued to families due to low take up. Even among those families who have registered for it a significant proportion never actually use it.
- Mandatory SEND training
- The Committee argues that more staff involved in a child's care should receive mandatory training in identifying and managing types of SEND, as it is “clearly inadequate” that only Level 3 qualified (A Level or BTEC) staff currently get this training. MPs call on the Government to amend the Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework to reflect this as soon as practical.
- Boosting staff career development
- Career development for early years practitioners should be an urgent priority for DfE to attract and retain more people in the profession. MPs are concerned about a lack of parity of esteem between early years settings and primary schools.
- The Early Careers Framework – used to define training for new teachers – should be expanded to apply to all staff working in Ofsted-registered early years settings to improve retention and boost their career development.
- The Committee heard that early years qualification routes have limited appeal due to not carrying the enhanced pay, status and conditions of employment that other teaching qualifications do. This limits the attractiveness of the sector and leads to challenges in achieving quality leadership. To support providers to develop their staff, we have also recommended the introduction of a Leadership Quality Fund.
- A long-term plan for childcare & the early years
Government announcements in the Spring Budget indicated its willingness to better support this vital sector. To properly do so, these changes need to form part of a wider Early Years Strategy, encompassing supply side reforms, workforce development, and a considered focus on improving the quality of ECEC provision for children in all areas. Simply expanding the funded entitlements will not be enough. The reports recommends that the Government review and update its 2017 Early Years Strategy.
‘We recommend the Government ensure that the early years sector is seen to be, and feels itself to be, a valued profession. To achieve this, we recommend the Government develop a comprehensive Early Years Strategy with a strong focus on workforce development. As part of this strategy, the Early Career Framework should be expanded to the early years sector. National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) should also be promoted more widely to increase uptake, including with Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) settings. We also recommend that the Government works to develop their outreach and communication channels with the early years sector to ensure that their voices are heard in the years to come’ - Education Committee Chair, Robin Walker MP
You can view the full report here.
A comment from Ka Lai Brightley-Hodges, PACEY's Head of Membership and Marketing:
PACEY welcomes the recommendations in the report, many that echo what PACEY has been calling for. The call to increase the childcare entitlement subsidy for providers is absolutely needed to stop providers from leaving the sector in droves. It was great to see the inquiry consider the views of childminders, including PACEY member Kara Jewell who is an excellent advocate for the sector, both for childminders and group settings. We welcome the recommendation to abolish business rates for Nurseries to help them invest in their staff and settings and remove barriers to expansion. We overwhelmingly agree with the recommendation that the Government updates it's 2017 Early Years Strategy and provide a long-term plan for childcare and the early years, not just expand funded entitlements. We would now like to see the government respond to the recommendations in this report.