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PACEY Policy - 2017: the year in review

Welcome to PACEY’s regular policy update. This month, we have taken a look back on 2017 and key achievements in England and Wales concerning childcare and early years, how we have represented your views to key decision makers and plans for the future. 

England

A year overshadowed by 30 hours

In England, childcare and early years policy in 2017 was dominated by the 30 hour entitlement for three- and four-year-olds of working parents. Although it was first announced in 2015, this year it finally became a reality.

The first three quarters of the year were spent ironing out the details of implementation, many which proved to be challenging. PACEY sat on the expert group which advised the Department for Education on the content of the statutory guidance, operational guidance, and model agreement.  We also pushed for a requirement in the guidance for childminders to be paid monthly. Following our advice, the content on childminders in the guidance was updated to make it clear that childminders “play a full role in delivering all of the free entitlements”, and that they may charge parents accessing a free entitlement place for a number of “optional extras”, for example on-call fees when a child is at another setting.

However, the issue of charging remains contentious and contradictory. Whilst there is a presumption that parents should expect to pay for meals, consumables, and additional activities, these charges must be entirely voluntary, and providers must give parents who cannot or do not wish to pay “alternative options”. Throughout the year, we sought to help our members navigate these issues through our regularly updated FAQs on 30 hours and our “30 hours in 30 seconds” videos.

For many providers, the main hurdle is that the hourly rate paid by their local authority is too low. Despite implementation of the new Early Years National Funding Formula in April, which was designed to make the early years funding system fairer, rates in many areas remain unsustainable. In May, our Childminder Fees Survey highlighted that the average registered childminder will experience a shortfall of over £400 per child, per year, for every funded place they offer. Although the Government’s own independent study on the cost of providing early education found that the average childminding place for a 3- or 4-year-old costs £4.77, the average local authority base rate is £4.28 – and 29 per cent of local authorities are paying under £4 per hour.  

We have been doing all we can to try to help keep childminding sustainable. This summer we launched Business Smart, a free online business resource to support new and established childminding settings. One of its core aims is to help childminders understand if funded places are viable for their business and, if so, how to make it work for them. We have been advocating a common-sense approach to regulation, for example by pressing PPL and PRS to exempt most childminders from having to purchase annual music licenses.

On 1st September, 30 hours finally ‘went live’ across England. Our 30 hours snap poll of childminders found that a majority of childminders (61 per cent) planned to offer the new extended entitlement (26 per in full, and 35 per cent in partnership with other providers such as pre-schools and schools). However, many of these were doing so ‘reluctantly’ or even ‘under duress’, as they feared if they did not families would go elsewhere. In addition, a worrying 40 per cent of childminders said they had not been asked by parents to deliver a 30-hour place.  

Whilst 93 per cent of 30-hour eligibility codes have been validated as of November, there are wide variations by local authority. PACEY has heard from a number of local authorities that take-up of 30 hours by parents has been lower than expected, though demand is expected to rise in the spring. And we are continuing to hear reports of delayed payments and red tape, which have long been bugbears of providers delivering funded places. If you would like to share how 30 hours has affected you, for better or for worse, please contact our policy team.

Early years workforce: some progress made, but much more to be done

Our second major policy focus in 2017 has been the early years workforce strategy, which was published in March, and for which PACEY had long been calling. The major announcement in the strategy was the scrapping of the GCSE requirements for Level 3 Early Years Educator qualification, something PACEY and the Save Our Early Years campaign had been campaigning on for months. One of the pledges in the strategy is that level 2 childcare qualifications will be reviewed and strengthened. As a member of the Expert Reference Group, we helped draft the new proposed level 2 criteria, which have just gone out to public consultation.

The strategy contains a number of proposals on early years specialist graduates, but PACEY does not believe they go far enough. There is growing concern that too many Early Years Teachers are leaving the early years workforce. In November, we joined up with Voice the Union to launch a survey that will aim reveal how many graduate-level teachers are leaving the early years profession and why – and how this trend can be reversed. The findings will be used to build a formal set of policy recommendations that we will be making to the Government early next year, as it firms up plans on how to increase recruitment and retention of specialist graduates in early years settings.

Our priorities for the year ahead

In addition to pushing for an ambitious implementation of the workforce strategy that benefits the entire sector, we will be closely monitoring the impact of 30 hours, particularly through Building Blocks, our flagship sector-wide survey, which will be launched in the spring. We will continue to campaign for a long-term, workable funding settlement for the childcare and early education entitlements.

We will also remain focused on improving childminder sustainability. A record number of childminders – 93 per cent – are now Ofsted-graded ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. At the same time, the number of registered childminders is falling, with a drop of over a quarter since 2012. PACEY is clear what needs to be done to help halt this decline. Childminders need more help with start-up costs and an elimination of the key barriers preventing them from delivering funded places. This means a higher hourly rate; an end to delayed payments and burdensome red tape from local authorities; and a removal on the  ban on childminders providing funded places to related children. Childminding must also be actively championed by national and local government and the health service to parents, so they understand that childminders are Ofsted-registered and deliver the EYFS just like other settings, and also have unique benefits. We will be lobbying government and local authorities for these changes in 2018 and beyond.

Wales

PACEY Cymru has had a busy year in relation to policy developments.  Alongside our Cwlwm partners we have ensured that the voice of the sector has been heard and have found strength and unity by coming together on key issues.  This, alongside the significant growth of trust and mutual respect through the year, has ensured better outcomes for childcare, early years and play providers across Wales. 

A year of developments on the Childcare Offer in Wales

In Wales, developments of childcare and early years policy in 2017 was heavily influenced by the development and piloting of the Childcare Offer providing 30 hours of funded early years and childcare to eligible working parents.  Though only currently piloted in seven local authorities work is ongoing to evaluate, review and expand to bring in further local authorities during 2018.

The first quarter of the year was spent supporting the Welsh Government with engagement on the development of the offer and the burning questions were around the rate paid to providers that would be agreed for the pilot and how this would be paid to providers. PACEY Cymru pushed for a requirement in the guidance for childcare providers to be paid monthly something which has been taken on board.  It was clear during developments of the offer that childminders had a key role to play in ensuring delivery of the offer was successful in Wales with all local authorities piloting the offer opening opportunities up to the full range of childcare provision including childminders. During engagement a number of key issues requiring clarification were identified by PACEY Cymru and forwarded to Welsh Government.

This resulted in the publication of guidance on Frequently Asked Questions. PACEY Cymru have been disappointed to learn that Welsh Government have changed the guidance they previously offered on access to Childcare Offer funding for parents who use a relative who is a registered childminder.  This change means that childminders in Wales are now in a similar position to childminders in England where they are unable to provide funded childcare for related children.  PACEY has been campaigning for over a decade for childminders to be permitted to deliver funded early education and childcare places to children who are related to them. PACEY Cymru will be working closely with policy colleagues in England to lobby on this issue and call for a change to the law.

Sustainability

PACEY Cymru published a report on Childminder de-registrations in Wales in early 2017.

Sustainability of existing, quality childcare is of importance to support the needs of children and their families and also will come to the forefront as the implementation of the childcare offer in Wales moves forward. 

The report showed there was a 6.5% decline in the number of childminders registered with CSSIW in Wales between September 2015 and September 2016. If this trend continues it is likely to impact on the ability for Welsh Government to deliver the Childcare Offer. The report and associated work showed that even though there is a great deal of positivity about childminding as a career or work choice from those who had de-registered in recent months the reasons for de-registration are complex and interwoven.

We have been doing all we can to try to help keep childminding sustainable in Wales. We have advocating a common-sense approach to regulation, for example by pressing PPL and PRS to exempt most childminders from having to purchase annual music licenses. PACEY Cymru have also been working to ensure that national and local issues related to Environmental Health, Food Hygiene Ratings, Fire Service Requirements, Electrical testing and Local Authority Planning are proportionate and appropriate to the service provided by childminders in Wales. If you would like to share how any of these issues have affected you or have any ongoing issues please contact us.

During the year we have worked closely with CSSIW and the development and submission of part 2 of the Self-Assessment of Service (SASS 2). We know that many childminders in particular had issues related to IT confidence and skills in accessing the online system. PACEY Cymru offered one to one support to a number of childminders during the time the system went live and the results of this is clear in the increased number of submissions. The submission of this will reflect positively within childcare providers’ inspection reports and ratings going forward as these move to being introduced in Wales during 2018. We have also worked closely with CSSIW to advice around the future of applications and renewals of DBS checks and feedback on proposals to shape the new process going live in 2018.

Childcare and Early years workforce

The Care Council for Wales changed to Social Care Wales in 2017.  PACEY Cymru has had a huge impact on the work of Social Care Wales given our close working relationship with them and membership of key advisory groups and networks. 

The formal announcement in September of changes to childcare qualifications in Wales from 2019 followed a year of work behind the scenes, of which PACEY Cymru was a key partner, to consider the best way forward working with key stakeholders, Social Care Wales and Qualifications Wales on the approach.  During the last quarter of 2017 work has been focused on developing the content for the new qualifications and supporting engagement for opportunities to feed back on the proposals.  This will continue during 2018. 

The Progress for Success programme which supported access to childcare qualifications for those working in the sector ended in July 2017.  Following this PACEY Cymru have been involved during the year in looking at the future of access to funded qualifications to support our ambition to upskill the sector.  The removal of the age limit from apprenticeships for childcare qualifications has enabled continued access for over 25-year-olds to funded training.  A new funded programme is also being considered.

Welsh Government are due to publish, in December, the new Early Years, Childcare and Play Workforce plan which sets out the priorities going forward for the next three years.  PACEY Cymru will publish a news story on this once it is published.

Additional Learning Needs

PACEY Cymru gave evidence on the draft Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill to the Welsh Assembly's Children, Young People and Education Committee at the Senedd in March.  This followed PACEY Cymru's consultation response on the Bill.

PACEY Cymru welcomed the step the Bill provided to ensure there is consistency in support for all learners from 0 – 25 years with Additional Learning Needs (ALN).  This includes recognition of the importance of early identification of ALN, timely support and flexibility to adapt plans promptly in order to meet individual needs.  PACEY Cymru also welcomed the recognition that the Bill gives to the role that childcare providers, along with other professionals, have in identifying needs and concerns in the early years. 

Our priorities for the year ahead

In addition to pushing for an ambitious implementation of the new childcare qualifications that benefits the entire sector, we will be closely monitoring the further development, implementation and impact of the Childcare Offer in Wales, particularly through Building Blocks, our flagship sector-wide survey, which will be launched in the spring and for this year will also include a focus on Wales.

We will also remain focused on improving childminder sustainability given the many developments over the year and monitor those entering and leaving childminding.

If you have a policy query or concern, as always, please get in touch with the policy teams in England or Wales

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