Sunday, 3 March 2013

More great childcare - really?

Last month the Government announced changes to the ways in which Day Nurseries will be able to operate. The DfEs publication, More great childcare, sets out 'to raise standards and give parents more choice'.
Increased Staff:Child Ratios
Central to the proposal outlined in More Great Childcare is an increase in staff:child ratios. The Government is proposing increasing the ratio from 1:3 to 1:4 for the Under 2s; and from 1:4 to 1:6 for the Over 2s.
The inevitable consequence of increased ratios is lower standards of care. Most of us find it difficult to keep track of one two year old, let alone six! The current ratios provide a level of care at a reasonable cost.  It simply will not be possible to deliver the same level of care and attention throughout the day with higher ratios. A Day Nursery carer in the Baby Room can put three Under 2s in a triple buggy and take them for a walk. Once the ratio increase to 1:4, this will not be possible.
(However, one of the few benefits of the increased ratios is that it will allow staff to take short breaks without imposing the need on Day Nurseries to have additional floating team members to cover them.)
Economics is the driver
The wider economic climate is clearly a driver for this particular policy shift, as Elizabeth Truss MP points out in the foreword:
"The availability of affordable, safe and stimulating care is crucial in supporting families by enabling parents to work. . . . . . The affordability and availability of childcare are growing concerns to many working parents, and some childcare providers are struggling in these tough economic times."
This proposal will increase the number of childcare places available, increase income/ reduce costs for Day Nursery providers - a saving which the Government is assuming (presuming?) that providers will pass on to parents.
However, in an attempt to avoid being seen to be compromising or diluting standards, someone in the DfE has had the brainwave that the same levels of care can be achieved with the increased ratios so long as the carers are better qualified. As the Consultation on Early Education and Childcare Staff Deployment (Section 1.6) puts it,
"Where there are high quality staff, greater flexibility in staffing can work. We will, therefore, free high quality providers to offer more places by allowing greater flexibility. That flexibility for nurseries should go hand in hand with higher quality, so providers will only be able to operate with more children per adult if they employ high quality staff.  
There are different ways to link higher ratios to higher quality. For instance, we could require settings to meet one of the following criteria in order to be able to operate higher ratios:
  •  70 per cent of staff qualified to at least Level 3;
  • 100 per cent of staff qualified to at least Level 3; 
  • 100 per cent of staff have at least a C in English and Maths; 
  • At least one graduate in the setting plus 70 per cent of other staff qualified to at least Level 3; or
  • Ratios based on the individuals working with children - so that only a staff member with a Level 3 qualification and/or English and Maths GCSE can use the higher ratio."
Class Divide?
These proposals are likely to create a division between those Day Nursery settings which move to the new higher ratios, and those who retain the current levels of staffing. On the one hand this is likely to lead to greater range of provision and pricing in the market place (which is arguably a good thing). On the other,  there is no guarantee that the cost savings from the relaxation of staff:child ratios will be passed on to parents. The new arrangements will provide a life-line to struggling Day Nurseries and may even attract new players into the market. However, there is real scope that it will play into the hands of those providers who put profit before child care and thus create real dilemmas for parents struggling to pay for child care.

Childcare Qualifications:
These suggestions raise the whole issue of whether or not certain qualifications actually ensure a quality of childcare. What I had not appreciated until I started researching the issue is that there are a whole range of "Level 3" "Childcare" qualifications. Google "childcare level 3 course" and almost all of the first page hits are NOT valid qualifications in the eyes of the DfE.  (If you want to check if a particular qualification has DfE validity, go to the Qualifications Finder on the DfE site.) The problem with many of these courses - and this applies (I believe) to all of the distance learning courses - is that they require additional accredited training in a practical setting (and thus far I have not found anyone who can provide the accreditation for that additional practical training).  Child Care students and Day Nursery providers beware!
GCSE Maths and English as a Childcare Qualification
Amongst the suggestions here is one of the most remarkable mismatches of qualification and competence: How do grade C passes at GCSE in English and Mathematics equate to the ability to look after a child in Day Nursery setting?  GCSE is overkill given the level of literacy and numeracy required in an Early Years setting. What is more, making this a requirement would be a significant bar to many of the excellent practitioners working in a Day Nursery setting.
Recruiting good experienced staff is the key to high levels of care
Day Nursery practitioners have a demanding job. They work long hours often with early morning and early evening shifts to provide the wrap-around care that working parents need. These hours are not conducive to workers who themselves have family commitments, and so the sector has a large number of young workers, who do not themselves have experience as parents. The levels of pay and holiday entitlement in the care sector are low - say, in comparison to school Teaching Assistants with a similar level of qualification. Recruiting reliable, presentable, caring and experienced staff is a real challenge.
If the Government wants to improve the quality of care, this is where it needs to look first, rather than on insisting on GCSEs.

(This is a joint Blogpost written with Samantha Jaspal, Headteacher Berkhamsted Pre-Prep and Day Nursery. @preprephead)

1 comment:

  1. I appreciated your professional way of writing this post thanks; you have made such a nice blog. I found in your website perfect for my needs it contains wonderful and helpful posts.