Quality Must Be a Priority Over Quantity
Nurseries across the UK have been telling us about their struggle to recruit – and then retain – a qualified workforce.
This is the single biggest factor in raising the quality of a child’s early education experience within childcare provision.
The Government’s 30 hours of funded childcare policy, aimed at primarily getting more parents into employment, is one of the main reasons for this difficulty.
Due to the lack of meaningful investment, most local authorities are unable to pay a fair hourly rate for three and four-year-olds, so profit or surplus margins are squeezed to non-existent. Employers can barely offer the legal minimum wages for their staff, putting off so many extremely passionate practitioners.
There is little money left over once staff have received their mandatory training for continuous professional development. Many practitioners pay for their own studies and training.
Equally, staff feel that there is little financial incentive to getting higher qualifications. Many get disillusioned and leave the sector altogether.
Getting the Correct Qualifications
Another Government policy has impacted severely on the availability of qualified staff. The stringent GCSE requirement of maths and English at grade C or above massively reduced the pool of qualified staff. Many either struggled to study for their GCSE alongside their Level 3 qualification, or just didn’t start the course because they didn’t hold the correct GCSE grades.
Following heartfelt campaigning by NDNA and its members, the Department for Education relaxed this requirement. However, it will take at least 18 months before this decision results in a bigger pool of level 3 qualified candidates for nurseries to fish from.
Investing in the Early Years Workforce
The cost of living is set to get higher as we approach Brexit, and families need both parents working to survive. Demand for childcare has increased with the 30 hours policy, but this increase is also the result of parents needing to work to pay their bills. It’s crucial that Government recognises this and focuses on quality as well as quantity. With the right level of investment, more practitioners can be attracted into the sector and more existing practitioners are incentivised to become better qualified.
Affordability could push employers to recruit a younger, less qualified workforce due to National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. As it currently stands, nurseries are employing lower qualified, younger staff to plug the gap and most nurseries have vacancies which are left unfilled.
We also want the early years workforce to reflect society, with more mature practitioners and more men educating our youngsters, with all the differing skills, life experiences and qualities they can bring to the nursery. With more children living in single parent families, particularly with single mothers, it’s more important than ever that they have positive male role models in their first few years.
Nurseries must be given financial support to offer their staff time off rota for training and to be able to pay for non-mandatory training.
NDNA is supporting the sector to raise standards by developing high-quality online training courses which practitioners can do at a time to suit them and their setting. This online learning has become extremely popular as a low-cost, convenient but quality training option. We know from the positive feedback we have received that it is fulfilling a need and numbers of students have ballooned to more than 40,000.
Until early years education is given the same priority as school and higher education, the quality of our nurseries is threatened. Quality early years experiences make a real difference to a child’s life and prospects. If this Government is serious about tackling inequality, this is where they need to invest.
This article was written by Purnima Tanuku, CEO, National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).
To hear Purnima discuss further the effects of new early years policies, click here to find out more about attending the upcoming Raising Standards in Early Years Provision and Care forum.