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Government adviser Professor Nutbrown says Government’s childcare reforms 'make no sense at all'

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Professor Cathy Nutbrown who wrote a Government commissioned review last year on childcare qualifications, has called the Government’s More Great Childcare report “disappointing” and said plans to change staff ratios “make no sense at all”.

Professor Cathy Nutbrown

The Government’s document was intended to be a response to Professor Nutbrown’s report, ‘Foundations for Quality’ published last year, which called for an increase in the number of qualified teachers with specialist early years knowledge and having level 3 as the minimum qualification standard for the whole workforce.

“So why on 29 January 2013, when the document ‘More Great Childcare’ was published, was I not delighted that the Government was announcing the introduction of Early Years Teachers, enhanced entry requirements to level three qualifications and a stronger level three qualification?” she asked.

On reading in more detail, she found most of her recommendations have been rejected. “Whilst I felt that my recommendations taken together would enhance quality, I am not at all convinced that accepting just five and tinkering with the others, will achieve the outcome for children and for professional practitioners that many had hoped for.”

She wanted early years teachers to have qualified teacher status and be on the same level as primary and secondary school teachers. But she has found the early years teachers proposed by the Government will not have QTS (qualified teacher status) nor will they follow a PGCE course so they will not have the same status as school teachers.

“Because my recommendation on QTS was not accepted, the hoped for parity with primary and secondary school teachers will not be realised,” said Professor Nutbrown, who fears it will create a “two-tier status for ‘teachers’”.

She also questioned whether Early Years Professionals are simply being renamed and said if so, this is “insulting”.

She is worried about the implications of having early years teachers who will be told they are not qualified to teach children in Year 1 at school and cannot achieve the promotion and pay available to teachers of older children.

On the subject of ratios, Professor Nutbrown believes the benefits of raising the quality of level 3 qualifications will be weakened if ratios are weakened.

Under the proposed changes, ratios for two-year-olds will increase from four children per adult to six children per adult, and for ones-and-under will rise from three children per adult to four children per adult.

Ratios for three-year-olds and over will remain at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate is present. The Government is justifying the ratio changes by saying it will lead to a reduction in childcare costs for parents.

She added: “I fear that any positive effects for children that might have come about through enhancement in qualifications will be cancelled out because there will be too few early years professionals working with them.”

She believes the children who will suffer most from a change in ratios will be “the youngest, most vulnerable children” and said it will lead to “stress – for children, for parents and for early years practitioners” and will “threaten quality”. “Childcare may be cheaper but children will be footing the bill”.

Professor Nutbrown concludes “the foundations of quality are being severely shaken and the price of quality in the early years is surely a price worth paying”.

Anand Shukla, chief executive of Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute has backed Professor Nutbrown’s concerns.

Anand Shukla, chief executive of Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute

He said: “The Nutbrown Review of childcare qualifications made very strong recommendations to improve the quality and status of the childcare profession, centred on giving graduates working in early years the same status and training as teachers by following a Post Graduate Certificate in Education programme. The government has missed the opportunity to take a big step forward in quality in early education by rejecting this recommendation.”

Mr Shukla also believes that reducing the number of staff caring for the youngest children simply cannot be justified.

He said: “Pushing staff to care for more children will undoubtedly lower the quality of children’s experience of childcare, even if those staff are qualified to a high level.”

Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour's Shadow Children's Minister, commenting on Professor Nutbrown's criticisms of the Government's childcare changes, said: “The Government’s own expert adviser has echoed the concerns of parents and nursery staff that the quality of care for babies and toddlers is being undermined by this Government - David Cameron and Michael Gove need to listen to Professor Nutbrown.

“David Cameron’s plans are a serious threat to childcare quality and child safety, and experts say they won't do anything to drive down costs. Since these plans were announced, Labour has been calling on ministers to think again - it's time they listened.”

In response to Professor Nutbrown’s criticisms of the reforms, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “Professor Nutbrown's review provided a valuable contribution to the development of our proposals for early education and childcare. We have taken forward several of her important recommendations but we recognise that reforms and improvement need to go much further if we are to give parents a proper choice of high quality childcare and early education.

“All the evidence shows that quality and safety are linked to high quality staff. Our reforms mean that only high quality providers will be able to have this additional flexibility. Our preliminary work suggests providers will be able to attract quality staff: using the new ratios could enable nurseries to pay staff up to £3,000 more per year.

“Our reforms will bring us into line with countries like France and Denmark.”

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