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Academics urge Government to delay free childcare scheme

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Leading early years experts from Oxford University are calling on the Government to delay expanding free nursery provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds over fears early years staff are not qualified enough.

Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation

In a report commissioned by the Sutton Trust, Sandra Mathers, Kathy Sylva and Naomi Eisenstadt, claim disadvantaged two-year-olds can often have complex needs and consequently require highly qualified early years staff to work with them.

The Government currently offers free early years places to the poorest fifth of two year-olds, but has announced that eligibility will extend to the poorest two-fifths of two-year-olds from September 2014 – increasing the number of eligible children from 130,000 to 260,000 children a year.

However the Sound Foundations report says early years staff need more training and better qualifications to deliver this expansion successfully.

The researchers estimate that more than 20,000 practitioners will need to complete additional qualifications to bring all childcare workers up to the standard required to provide good quality care (A level equivalent).

Good quality childcare is vital

Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, said: “Our report demonstrates how important it is to get early years care right.

“Research shows that good quality childcare can reduce behavioural problems and increase language skills among disadvantaged toddlers. However there is strong evidence that if the childcare is of poor quality there is no real benefit.”

She added: “We know that qualifications for childcare workers are important for quality therefore the Government should first invest in raising standards before expanding the number of free places available to two-year-olds.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, who believes the Government should be focussing on providing really good provision for the poorest children rather than spreading the money thinly by expanding the scheme too quickly.

He said: “The Government’s policy of providing free places for the poorest two-year-olds should be a great investment in the future, but only if quality is not sacrificed for the sake of quantity.”

LEYF backs report

London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has backed the calls by Oxford academics and the Sutton Trust to delay expansion of the scheme.

LEYF chief executive June O’Sullivan called the report “timely” and said: “The Government, childcare providers and all in the field agree that intervening early in a vulnerable child’s life is the best policy, and that the quality of intervention is of paramount importance.

LEYF chief executive June O’Sullivan

“Yet the Government seems set on pushing childcare providers into creating more and more capacity for vulnerable two-year-olds, without investing sufficient funding to deliver care of the quality these fragile toddlers require.

“The Government should delay the introduction of funded care for disadvantaged two-year-olds.”

However, Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children is fully behind the programme’s expansion saying “we must prioritise rather than delay this crucial programme of work” as the “extension of free early learning to 40 per cent of the country’s most disadvantaged two-year-olds from September 2014 has huge potential to improve the life chances of millions of children for years to come.”

She is in agreement that high quality staff are “absolutely essential” and said: “This will take serious additional investment to develop the workforce”. In order to do this, 4Children believes the Government needs to extend the pupil premium to the early years.

NDNA calls for more funding

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, also thinks rolling out funded places for disadvantaged two-year-olds is the right idea but said the Government’s investment must match its ambition.

Ms Tanuku said: “While it is crucial the learning two-year-olds are receiving is good quality, the majority of nurseries, 82 per cent, are graded good or outstanding but a shortfall in funding restricts wages and the number of well qualified staff a nursery can afford to employ.

“In NDNA’s spring 2013 Business Performance Survey nearly half of nurseries offering two-year-old places said the hourly funding did not cover the cost of the place. With 60 per cent of a nursery’s income coming from free funded places it is a financial black hole which leaves providers effectively subsidising Government funded places.”

To tackle this problem, she would like to see the funding ring-fenced.

The report claims that according to current trends, many of the early years workers needed to expand provision, are likely to be childminders, who tend to be less well qualified than workers in nursery settings.

Ms Tanuku of the NDNA reiterated that the majority of those not qualified up to Level 3 are childminders rather than nursery workers, 84 per cent of whom hold a Level 3 qualification.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) said: “Slowing down the expansion of free provision for two year olds is one option but PACEY believes that utilising the full capacity of the current workforce is a better first step.

“We agree that it’s important for all childcare professionals, including childminders, to be well qualified.”

However she claimed that “most childminders already hold a relevant Level Three qualification, without any regulatory requirement to do so. So reaching the report’s target of an additional 20,000 practitioners having completed additional qualifications is a realistic goal.”

Report recommends raising pay

The researchers recommend increases in pay to reflect new qualifications and to raise the status of early years workers. Currently the average pay for childcare workers in England is £13,330 per annum compared with £19,150 for an equivalent role in Germany.

The report also calls for the Government to ensure all practitioners (including childminders) can access qualifications and ongoing professional development which adequately prepares them to meet the needs of disadvantaged two-year-olds and their families. It would also like to see ministers create a workforce development fund to help pay for training and development for early years workers, including childminders.

To improve the skills of the early years workforce, the Government has launched two new early years qualifications called the Early Years Educator (trained up to Level 3) and the Early Years Teacher – a graduate who will lead high-quality teaching in the early years. However the Early Years Teacher will not have Qualified Teacher Status meaning EYTs will not have the same status and pay as school teachers.

Early Years Teachers need Qualified Teacher Status, a leading online guide to day nurseries and nursery schools, believes this would make a big difference.

It recently carried out a poll finding the majority of people are in favour of EYTs having Qualified Teacher Status.

Davina Ludlow, director of, said: “The expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds requires considerable amounts of funding and preparation.

“To ensure consistent high quality provision, workforce development and increasing staff ratios is vital.

“As today’s report highlights, steps like ensuring all early years staff have access to qualifications such as the Qualified Teacher Status and increases in pay, would go a long way in helping to achieve this.”

General secretary Deborah Lawson of Voice, the union for education professionals, also highlighted the poor pay of childcare workers and said: “Many nursery staff could earn more in less demanding low-skilled jobs outside childcare, but they are dedicated professionals who carry on providing a valuable service, at times even funding their own training.

“There is no doubt that the expansion of the scheme is essential to give children the best start in life. However, without significant investment in training, salaries and a career structure for nursery staff, plans to expand childcare provision and raise standards will fail.”

To take part in the poll on whether Early Years Teachers should have Qualified Teacher Status go to

To read the report go to


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