The papers on Saturday were full of the preview report from Professor Cathy Nutbrown, which raised concerns that some nursery staff have very low educational standards.
It is no secret that for many years less able students at school, mostly girls, are steered towards hairdressing or childcare as vocational qualifications, with little thought of what this will really mean for their long term success. Many years ago childcare might have been seen as a ‘safe’ occupation until those girls got married and had their own children, but the Early Years sector has changed beyond recognition, with many careers advisors failing to keep track of the change.
These days it is essential that nursery staff have a really good understanding of child development – indeed, the Early Years Foundations Stage depends on it. There are options to progress from NVQ 2 and 3 to complete a degree in Early Years and Childcare, and even to become and Early Years Professional, which is considered to be on a par with a Teaching qualification. There is real career progression and there are many different career options, whether it is working in the private or voluntary sector, joining the Local Authority advisory team or becoming an OFSTED inspector.
The days have gone where it was just something to do with the less able students, but schools and colleges must recognise this too. However, the most important issue with upskilling the Early Years workforce is cost. Better educated and better qualified staff quite rightly want to earn more. Parents can barely afford the current cost of childcare in the UK, so how do we continue to improve qualifications without increasing the cost to our customers?
That is really the subject of a whole different article, but suffice it to say, it is time we really tackled this issue and the Government looked at reviewing staff:child ratios (the UK has some of the highest in the world), reducing VAT on capital expenditure, reviewing business rates and ensuring that the funding for 3 and 4 years olds (and increasingly, 2 year olds) truly covers the cost of the sessions, to avoid parents effectively cross subsidising these sessions by paying higher rates for younger children and longer hours.
The Panorama programme last month touched on some of these issues, but as a nation we need to have a well informed debate about how we want to make childcare more affordable and how we can support working families better. Do let me know what you think…….