In the week that I was invited to speak at a roundtable hosted by Baroness Clare Tyler at the House of Lords and attended by Sam Gyimah MP, the Childcare Minister, the film Suffragette had just opened in cinemas across the country.
If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to do so. It makes for compulsive, if hard- hitting, viewing and it deserves a wide audience.
Sitting in a grand committee room of the House of Lords, the spirit of the Suffragettes who spoke out so eloquently and so fearlessly for the rights of women was clearly palpable. I, alongside my colleagues in the early years sector, stood up for the early years professionals who work so tirelessly and with so little recognition and reward to ensure that children get the best start in life.
For too long now, women – and despite a higher attendance from male childcare professionals than ever before at our recent PACEY conference, it is still largely a female workforce – have worked at around, or less than, the minimum wage because governments have relied on their good will and enthusiasm to work with young children.
PACEY has welcomed moves to ensure practitioners are paid the minimum of the National Living Wage (Childbase Partnership being just one recent example), but we have a long way to go until childcare workers are fairly renumerated for their work that they do, and that, as in countries such as New Zealand, higher pay is linked to qualifications and training.
As our recent Building Blocks survey shows, whilst we have seen significant progress in raising standards and strengthening the professionalism of the early years workforce over the last few years, this is increasingly under threat due to the erosion of local authority support for training and development and the escalation in costs of training.
Given this challenge, we are so proud of our PACEY members who commit to undertaking a minimum of 15 hours of CPD a year and take advantage of the huge range of free training and other resources that PACEY provides.
Indeed, Building Blocks survey respondents were unanimously positive about the benefits that CPD can bring, with more than 80 per cent of respondents saying that CPD improved their confidence as practitioners.
Since our launch in March 2013, PACEY has worked tirelessly to ensure that the views of our members are heard and to improve the status and recognition of the sector in order not only to encourage new entrants into the profession, but also support those already working in the sector.
PACEY has welcomed the Childcare Minister’s promise to develop a workforce strategy to support childcare professionals and the roundtable was an early opportunity for PACEY to put its views to the Minister.
We think that central to this strategy is to set out a career progression pathway so that early years professionals can see clearly how they can progress their careers, as well as to improve the current range of support for childcare professionals to undertake training and CPD. We will shortly be publishing a paper which sets out a number of suggestions and we will be using this in meetings with policy makers over the coming months to help shape what this workforce strategy might look like.
What we will be eager to communicate is that PACEY members are well placed to help deliver the Government’s ambitious target to double the free entitlement for three- and four-year olds, but that childcare professionals need an adequate level of funding, as well as the support to deliver the high quality of childcare that our children deserve. We eagerly await the results of the funding review on 25 November.
The early years sector is made up of many different providers and interest groups. Yet those leading early years organisations joining the Childcare Minister at the roundtable in the House of Lords were all in fervent agreement that it is the people who work so hard every day in early years settings across the country that make the biggest difference in ensuring that every child – regardless of their background – gets the best start in life.
We entered the House of Lords through the Black Rods entrance. The Black Rod is a senior officer at the House of Lords associated with a very long-standing tradition of banging a black rod three times on the door to signal the State Opening of Parliament.
It may take a few more than three bangs on the door but, in the spirit of the Suffragettes, I promise you that PACEY will not give up until we have seen a better deal for childcare professionals. In the words of Emmeline Pankhurst (rousingly spoken by Meryl Streep in the movie), we will: “never give up the fight”.