"I want the Government to sit up and listen to us.” This was one of the responses we received from you in the survey we sent out in February, in answer to the question “what is the one thing that would improve the experience of providers?”
With that response firmly in mind and influencing our discussions, we’ve had some great opportunities this week to share the concerns of our members with the Government.
In this blog I take you through a busy week in Westminster with PACEY, demonstrating just how the views of childcare professionals are getting heard at the very highest levels of Government.
Meetings with Ministers
Monday saw Liz Bayram and I off to Westminster to meet Sharon Hodgson MP’s researcher to talk through the possible implications of the Childcare Bill.
Sharon is the Shadow Minister for Children and Families and I had met her at the House of Lords the previous week, so this was a chance to talk through the concerns you raised through the Building Blocks survey at greater length.
Sitting among fig trees in the courtyard of Portcullis House with many other MPs and their researchers – I wonder how many other issues are being discussed at the same time.
Then off to the House of Commons to meet Sam Gyimah MP, the Minister for Childcare and Education.
After the usual airport-style security checks, we sat patiently in the lobby looking out for the stars of Westminster.
We knew that the Minister was due to go to the House of Lords in advance of the second reading of the Childcare Bill, so we weren’t sure how much time we’d have with him.
But we were delighted that he gave us an hour of his time. This says a lot about the respect that PACEY commands and the Minister’s commitment to listen to the views of our members.
Explaining your concerns to the Minister
We talked through the findings of the Building Blocks survey which shows the huge strain that childcare professionals are under, as well as demonstrating just how highly motivated you are, and how valued and respected by parents.
The Minister was very interested to hear our views on the need for a comprehensive workforce strategy. A strategy that supports childcare professionals to continuously improve throughout their career, incentivises them to do so and delivers a CPD-based approach that fits with the sector’s long hours and limited resources.
The challenges of delivering 30 hours of free childcare
We also shared our views on the challenges of delivering the proposed 30 hours of the early years entitlement (EYE). We explained that as well as the funding not being enough to cover the costs, there are other barriers to delivering the EYE, including delays in payment, local variation in funding levels as well as being unable to claim for related children.
We are so grateful for all the stories you tell us – through calls to our helpline, social media and your responses to surveys, as well as input gathered through our PACEY Local networks. This really helps us to shape convincing arguments for change with policy makers.
The importance of child-based, play-based care and education
We ended with reiterating the overriding message that our members told us through our survey that pre-school children should be allowed to learn and develop life skills through play rather than formal, structured learning.
We welcomed much of the Government’s recent focus on the importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools, but we explained the vital role that childcare professionals have to play in supporting children’s full development.
This is clearly outlined in the EYFS, and our concerns that current early years education policy is focused too narrowly on maths and literacy.
The concerns of PACEY, along with many colleagues in the sector, are highlighted in the campaign against baseline assessment. You can find out more and show your support for the baseline campaign here.
The consultation on funding
The funding review was announced as we were meeting with the Minister. This is a really important opportunity for the childcare sector to input.
The consultation is really broad so we've put together some guidance if you’d like to respond separately. We will also be sending out a survey shortly to help us collate our response to the consultation. The deadline is not until 10 August so plenty of time!
Childcare Bill: second reading in House of Lords
On Tuesday, the Childcare Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords. I had a meeting with Baroness Jones of Whitchurch last week, so it was great to hear her using some of the messages in her address that PACEY has been keen to highlight.
Visiting childminders in Southend
Meanwhile, Liz Bayram was off to visit PACEY staff and members in Southend with Helen Stephenson, Director of Early Years at the Department for Education.
It was a great opportunity to showcase the fantastic work happening in the local authority supporting childminders and share lots of great examples of childminders working in partnership with nurseries, pre-schools and schools to deliver the free entitlement flexibly for families.
Working in partnership with childcare settings
Liz and Helen attended a drop-in session for childminders. Over 15 childminders attended, including Sam McKenna, Nursery World childminder of the year. Liz was buzzing with excitement on the train back.
She told me: “The meeting reinforced to me again how working in partnership with other settings, especially schools and pre-schools, really does support children and families to make the most of the free entitlement. I was struck by how on-going peer support and training is helping the childminders here grow their knowledge and skills but also their confidence to develop their businesses.
“As always, it depends on strong local leadership to organise these opportunities and motivate colleagues to get involved. It was great to meet three very dedicated and long serving childminders who have run the drop-in for many years. One of them brought a copy of her old local authority handbook on how to be a childminder. Dated 1986, it all gave us a giggle and reinforced how far childminding has come in that relatively short time.”
Dedicated, long-serving childminders are at the very heart of our PACEY Local peer to peer support network and we are so proud of the efforts of all our volunteers around the country running similar programmes to that in Southend.
Feedback from the Minister
On Wednesday, we received a really positive email back from the Minister’s office – he was really keen to hear more about our plans to help shape what a workforce development strategy might look like. Penny Tassoni, our hard-working President, is eager to help us too and we’re busy sorting dates in the diary to take this forward.
It’s only Thursday - it’s been an incredibly busy week so far and really exciting that PACEY is helping to shape some major policy areas to help improve status and recognition for childcare professionals. What will the rest of the week bring...?