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Government proposals to reform childcare services in England could have “damning consequences” for the sector and the children it cares for if they are implemented, the head of the Pre-School Learning Alliance has warned.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, told delegates at the Early Years Funding and Inspection conference in London that not only was the Government implementing childcare policies without prior consultation with the sector but that its plans to relax childcare ratios had little or no support within the industry or from parents.
Mr Leitch said, “Never in the past 12 years have I seen so much hostility towards a single initiative as this one. Why? Because we believe it entirely conflicts with the aim of putting the child first.”
He said a recent Alliance survey had found that 94 per cent of group day care providers thought the quality of their childcare would diminish if ratios were altered. “Yet, you would think that given around 70 per cent of costs relate to staff wages, providers would be rushing out of their nursery doors jumping for joy at the prospect of increasing revenue – but it’s the reverse.”
The core problem was that the Government wanted world-class childcare but wasn’t prepared to invest in the infrastructure needed to make this happen, according to Mr Leitch, who said. “The harsh reality is that you can’t have the best childcare in the world, low parental charges, high staff salaries and invest half of what’s needed.”
He suggested the Government’s recent focus of France and the Netherlands as the two European countries whose childcare provision England should emulate was “more about balancing the books than doing what is right for children”.
Mr Leitch also called on the Government to focus on the current funding level of the free early years entitlement to help make childcare more affordable to parents instead of suggesting that changing ratios would somehow make the cost of childcare cheaper.
He said, “I find it absolutely remarkable that in Government's desire to make childcare affordable, just about every possible avenue has been is explored. We are told there is too much red tape, there is too much local authority regulation, we are over-inspected, and the ratios are too rigid.
“Yet somehow the opportunity to explore what one of my colleagues described as the bleeding obvious – the funding level for the free entitlement – is ignored.
“Survey after survey raises it as a major concern of providers, yet time after time the Government fails to grasp the opportunity to explore the position. Why? Because it knows the answer, and as a result the Government seems hell-bent on finding every other solution rather than face up to a fundamental problem.” Mr Leitch also criticised the Government’s lack of both co-operation and consultation with the childcare and early years sector, saying that it had gone back on its promise to work in partnership with early years professionals and organisations and accusing the Government of “stage management” around its More Great Childcare document.
“In this Government’s original vision statement back in July 2011 we are told co-production is the way forward, it is a new way of working with professionals. We were told it wasn’t just for the now but for the future, and we were told we would contribute at an early stage and during development of policy. And for about a year we did.
“And where are we now? With one exception, every co-production group has been dismantled and the one that remains has had nothing to do with shaping these announcements.
“With some of the most potentially damaging policies about to be offloaded, I would ask how many local authorities were consulted about the content of the More Great Childcare, how many parents were consulted and how many providers had their voice heard? Frankly, in my opinion, the entire run-up to this announcement has had the feel of stage management.”
Mr Leitch also threw down a challenge to Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss. He said, “When challenged on whether the Minister could care for six two-year-olds, she said, ‘We need to get away from this notion that anyone can do this job.’ So Minister, if you truly hold the people that do the work in such high regard, why don’t you listen to them?” To vote on this controversial proposal please go to our poll on www.daynurseries.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/18/debate-would-cutting-staff-ratios-reduce-the-quality-of-care-in-nurseries