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A failure to recognise the need for significant investment in the early years sector means that childcare remains ‘the poor relation of education’, according to Voice general secretary and former local authority childcare commissioning manager Deborah Lawson.
Responding to Ofsted’s ‘Early Years Annual Report’, published yesterday with some pointers from HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ms Lawson looks to highlight the current financing issues the Union believes is holding back the sector.
She says, “Sir Michael has rightly urged parents to take up their free entitlement. However, questions remain about the future sustainability of that entitlement. The current situation, where providers are underfunded and have no alternative but to charge higher fees for hours over the free entitlement, cannot continue – not least because such cross-subsidy makes a mockery of its description as ‘free’.
“Underfunding of the free entitlement is a significant contributory factor to the low salary levels in the sector. A further consequence of insufficient funding is the reduction in training budgets, reducing opportunities for staff training and continuing professional development.”
Ms Lawson urges the Government to recognise that action is needed. She says, “The combination of low wages, poor career prospects and dwindling training budgets does not make childcare an attractive professional career option. If we are to retain highly skilled and experienced early education and childcare professionals and recruit others into the sector, the Government must provide more investment and address the poor career prospects, status and salary structure within the sector.
“The Government has promised to increase free childcare but the sector cannot expand without recruiting and retaining good quality staff. With the lure of better paid jobs outside childcare, the sector faces a recruitment and retention crisis.”
She concludes, “Without significant investment in childcare and the childcare workforce, early years education and childcare will remain the ‘Cinderella service’ – the poor relation of education – despite their key role as the start of the education journey for children and the essential foundation for their education.
“That is why Voice, on behalf of its members, is calling for appropriate investment and a coherent pay and career structure that reflects and rewards appropriately the professionals who work in early years education and childcare and raises the status of the sector and profession.”