Nutbrown Review: sector reaction to recommendations

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Early years organisations have responded positively to the 19 recommendations made by Professor Cathy Nutbrown in her review of early years qualifications, in terms of the vision set out for a higher qualified workforce with a stronger professional identity. However, the big question remains: how does a higher qualified workforce square with the pressing need for more affordable childcare?

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At the NDNA, chief executive Purnima Tanuku  said the early years sector needs to embrace change and that the Government must play its part to financially support this.

She said,  ‘It has shown great commitment to children and to developing its workforce - we already have the vast majority of nurseries rated good or outstanding by Ofsted and 70 per cent of staff qualified to Level 3 or above. Taking the sector to the next level over the coming decade will help ensure every child gets the high quality early years experience that enables them to reach their full potential.

‘To achieve this ambitious vision, the sector needs to celebrate and learn from its best practice and to be prepared to continue to embrace change – which can be challenging.  At a time when we are hearing in our latest NDNA Nursery Business Performance Survey from almost 80 per cent of nurseries that in England local authority support for training is being cut back, and that for 76 per cent of nurseries’ funding for government free nursery education does not cover costs - with an average loss of £500 per child per year -  it is vital that local and national government also  plays its part.

'With the latest Department for Education survey showing 77 per cent  of nurseries’ income going on staff costs, local and national government needs to look at the implications of the recommendations and find real solutions to support the sector.  The long term vision of a well qualified, professional early years sector can only be achieved if the sector receives the right support and funding – otherwise parents will bear the costs of reform.’ 

While the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) welcomes Professor Nutbrown’s emphasis on the importance of good childcare and the need for high quality professional training and qualifications, it is also concerned about how this will be afforded. Alison Ryan, education policy advisor at the ATL said, ‘Good quality childcare does not come cheap and it’s ironic that Professor Nutbrown’s review comes out on the same day the Prime Minister says he wants to make early years provision cheaper for parents. And would this be the same David Cameron whose government has cut the Sure Start Centres, which provided help for disadvantaged children, and local authority budgets so been responsible for reducing the amount of support available for children and families needing physical, mental, emotional or behavioural support?

‘While some schools may have the capacity, grounds, staffing levels, access to external services and expertise to run excellent after-school clubs, many do not.  Extending school hours could damage schools’ core role of providing education and place a huge toll on staff, and it cannot replace the need for the government to make substantial long-term investment into high-quality early years education and into subsidising good childcare.’

At Voice, Tricia Pritchard, senior professional officer (Early years and Childcare) believes that the recommendations could raise the status of the workforce, but that the state should help to foot the bill.

She said,  ‘For too long there has been a general perception – a misconception – that anyone can care for children.

‘To ensure that the profession is of the highest quality, the childcare workforce must be qualified. Requiring all those who work with children to hold a relevant qualification will take this forward, but there must be a strong career and salary structure to go with this.

‘It is true that there is a serious shortage of quality and affordable childcare and how we pay for this as a society must be fundamental to the Downing Street review. If parents cannot afford to pay the fees that nurseries need to recruit and retain high quality, professional staff, then who will? It seems that a major and sustained investment from the state will be required.

‘The early years are crucial to every child’s development and it is essential that we have an early years system that meets the needs of children, families and professionals.

‘How can the childcare system deliver, and recruit and retain a skilled and well-trained workforce, in the face of cuts to local authority services and the axe of closure and redundancy that hangs over children’s centres and other early years settings, and the staff who work in them?

‘Any extended provision of childcare through longer school opening times must also be of high quality and provide rich and valuable experiences, and not be seen as, or become, somewhere for parents to "dump the kids". We will, of course, provide our contributions to both reviews.’

Norland Nannies echoes these concerns. Claire Burgess, senior education lecturer at Norland College, said ‘A career in childcare should be seen as a profession, not a vocation and Norland welcomes the review's recommendations to raise the levels of skills across the workforce.  

‘Norland sees the introduction of a teaching qualification for leaders of a nursery or pre-school as essential - as it will raise the status of those working with the youngest children to the level of those working in Primary Schools, the recruitment requirements of a Level 2 in English and Maths will ensure that the sector is no longer used as an exit route for Year 11 students failing to obtain GCSE qualifications.  This move will enable the childcare industry to remove itself from the historic "hair or care" agenda.

‘We strongly support the recommendation for a fully qualified sector by 2022.  This gradual workforce reform, will give current practitioners the opportunity to up-skill, whilst retaining the clear message that quality and qualifications count in narrowing the achievement and disadvantage gap.

‘Norland College embraces the recommendation of a new early years specialist route to QTS, specialising from birth to seven.  We believe that a qualification of this form will raise both the status and value placed upon the education of the youngest of children and those working alongside them, adding greater professionalism to the sector.

‘Although this increased level of qualification for nursery staff may increase childcare costs, Norland doesn't believe in offering childcare at any cost, the early years of a child's education are crucial in their long term development.

‘Norland would argue vehemently against David Cameron's plans to deregulate child-minders, as this is totally inconsistent with this review, which has clearly identified the need for all people working with children under five to be properly trained.’

At 4Children, chief executive Anne Longfield supports the need for a stronger professional workforce identity.  She said, ‘If the Government accepts the Review’s recommendations, early education and childcare could begin to enjoy the status of primary or secondary school teaching, rather than being viewed as a career where qualifications and professional development are of lesser importance.

‘If properly implemented, this review could lead to a radical change in the early education and childcare sector – offering training and qualifications which are fit for purpose; challenging and rewarding job opportunities; with better-informed and better-developed staff who can intervene early to give children the support they need to grow and develop.

‘It offers to the workforce a strong professional identity,  which will be valued by parents and  wider society as well as stressing the importance of early childhood and how it should be understood , respected and valued in its’ own right. 

‘The review offers a long term vision for the early years workforce with quality at the heart and supports the early years sector in driving its’ own improvement and reaching for high but achievable standards .

‘Crucially, these changes will require more investment – from Government, both local and national, from providers and employers, and from staff themselves. Training will take longer, wages will need to increase, and investment in the quality of the early years workforce will need to grow.’

Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive at the National Children’s Bureau said that NCB believes that the implementation of, and commitment to, the proposals put forward in the report will raise the quality of childcare across the board.

‘Undoubtedly extra resources and investment will be required to see this through to fruition.  But we must press on with the challenge,’ she said. ‘We cannot use cost as a reason for not ensuring our early years workforce is well-qualified, professional and highly respected.’ 

At the Daycare Trust, chief executive Anand Shukla praised how Cathy Nutbrown had engaged with the sector. 

He said, 'Her report today is a very important contribution towards achieving high-quality childcare. To ensure the vision of high-quality childcare in Cathy Nutbrown’s paper is realised – which is so important for child development – then we will need to see Government commit the resources required.’ 

Unison said it welcomed the recommendations for a fully qualified workforce and for improved rigour and standards in the delivery of early years qualifications, but regretted the report did not address pay and conditions of staff.

Ben Thomas,  national officer, Unison Education and Children’s Services, said, ‘ Increasing professionalism and higher standards need to be reflected in professional levels of pay for all early years workers. The problems in attracting high quality graduates and the low status of early years staff will never be addressed while low pay is still so prevalent in the sector.

‘Extra funding will be needed to enable staff to achieve the required qualifications. Government cuts to funding for adults in further education will make it difficult many people to achieve Level three.

‘We are disappointed that the report does not recommend a right to continuing professional development for all staff and think that online resources are not a sufficient response to the problems that practitioners face in accessing ongoing training and development. We also have concerns about further revision of EYP status. We believe EYPS should not be seen as a stepping stone to QTS but as a professional qualification in its own right, with pay and conditions to match.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance said, 'The Alliance welcomes Professor Nutbrown's thoughtful and considered review of the current qualifications framework. Getting the qualilfications framework right is essential if the early years sector is to develop as a respectetd, rewarded and valued career.

'Cathy Nutbrown's recommendations set challenges for all involved in the system - training providers, awarding organisations, Government, employers and practitioners themselves. The challenge now is to turn these recommendations into a framework that is progressive, respected and affordable.

 
'To implement Cathy Nutbrown's proposals for a Level 3 workforce will require substantial investment. We are concerned about where the money to pay for the creation of a highly-qualified workforce will come from, given that the Government has just announced a Childcare Commission to look into the high cost of childcare to parents and ways to reduce that financial burden.

'We are also concerned about where the money will come from to pay early years practitioners the higher salaries they will expect after they have achieved their higher qualifications.'