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‘A revolution in childcare’?

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The government’s own news item on the recent Spring Budget opened with the words ‘A revolution in childcare’. Here we take the Chancellor’s announcements and suggest 5 revolutionary ideas.

1.       Putting children at the centre

The political conversation about the early years sector is led by a focus on enabling parents/carers to work. For families, balancing the economics of working and having children is a daily - and worrying - consideration. Phrases such as ‘free childcare’ are designed to make them listen. But where are the children in this discussion? Putting children at the centre of policy making would change the conversation – and society’s perception of early childhood education.

2.       Supply that meets demand

While the government is phasing in 30 hours of ‘free childcare’ for every child over the age of 9 months with working parents by September 2025, we have early years settings closing at record rates and a recruitment crisis. The Spring Budget did include a ‘token offer’ (Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance) to encourage more childminders into the sector,  but this is unlikely to provide significant extra capacity. So even if families are eligible for funded places, there may not be a place available for their child. Meaning that those who could work may still not be able to – and it remains women who are impacted most by putting their work on hold, or leaving it completely, to do the parenting. Developing a policy which ensured supply met demand would positively impact children, women, and the early years sector workforce.

3.       Closing the gap

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the same could be said of ‘free childcare’ - there are terms and conditions. Entitlement to the new 30 hours funding offer remains linked to adults in the household working for at least 16 hours per week. So children in non-working families continue to be unable to access this ‘free childcare’. These are the children who may well benefit the most from the extra provision. Rolling out the 30 hours offer to younger children, with the same terms and conditions as the previous funding, deepens disadvantage. What would happen if we had entitlement to funded places for all children? A policy that could contribute to closing the gap for disadvantaged children.

4.       Language and status

Throughout the Spring Budget (and beyond) the word ‘childcare’ is used. This continues to move political and public perception of the early years sector away from ‘education’. It devalues this most crucial developmental period in a child’s life, one that influences their future. And it devalues the roles of all those who work with our youngest children. Language is a powerful thing. If our politicians led the way and used terms such as ‘early childhood education’, this change in language would raise the status of the Early Years.

5.       High quality provision for all children

The Chancellor confirmed a change to child ratios for 2 year olds in early years settings, from 1:4 to 1:5 staff to children, with the upper limit being ‘optional’. An ‘optional’ reduction in the required number of children to staff could lead to greater negative impact for children from disadvantaged families. And there was no mention of further training and qualifications of our dedicated early years workforce to enable early years professionals to provide high quality early childhood education with potentially fewer adults. Nor was there mention of improving pay, which would recognise the knowledge and skills required to provide that high quality provision and increase recruitment and retention of the sector workforce. Imagine the impact if politicians understood the formula: improved qualifications + recognition through pay = high quality early childhood education for all children.

By Jules Mickelburgh 

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Fantastic summary of the problem and some sensible suggestions I love 'improved qualifications + recognition through pay = high quality early childhood education for all children. It's SO simple, isn't it? 😧

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The classic 'it's not rocket science' comes to mind! 

Something that really struck me when I was thinking about this, is the change in language. It doesn't cost policy makers any money to change the way everyone talks about the sector. It takes a change of mindset. Using the words 'Early childhood education' could do so much to elevate the conversation. 

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