Consultation results not deemed to be in 'public interest'

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The Department for Education (DfE) has decided not to publish the results or a response to a key early years Government consultation because it was not deemed to be 'in the public interest', Nursery World has learned.

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Ministers have abandoned Professor Cathy Nutbrown's recommendations to move towards a fully-qualified Level 3 early years workforce

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the union Unison on the reasons why the findings of the consultation on early education and staff deployment would not be published, the DfE said it had decided not to publish them because to do so 'is likely to have a corrosive effect on the conduct of good Government.'

Last month, Nursery World revealed that the DfE had confirmed that it would not go ahead with Professor Cathy Nutbrown's recommendations to move towards a minimum Level 3 qualification for all early years practitioners counted in staff:child ratios.

The consultation had asked for views on these proposals, as well as controversial Government plans to change staff:child ratios, which were subsequently abandoned by the Government last year.

Last month, the DfE published a breakdown of the number and type of respondents, revealing that 1,394 responses were received.

The FOI response, which Nursery World has seen, states that the department concluded 'that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and not disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this instance'.

It goes on to set out the reasons for the decision not to publish a response (see box).

Ben Thomas, national officer of Unison, said, 'It is ridiculous to suggest that it is not in the public interest to publish the results of the consultation. This consultation received one of the highest number of respondents from any DfE consultation and the results are of great interest to the sector. I will be appealing against the decision not to publish the results and taking the case to the information commissioner if necessary.'

Commenting on the DfE's response, Professor Nutbrown, head of the School of Education at the University of Sheffield, said, 'The way forward for early years qualifications is quite clear. Young children need strong well-qualified practitioners to support their learning and all round development.

'We need a show of political will now - to help create a high-status profession where women and men have qualifications that equip them to do their important jobs and enhance their career development. While the arguments continue, vulnerable two-year-olds are becoming vulnerable three-year-olds for whom little has changed.

'We need to address the issues of quality in early childhood education and care now. That means political will, investment and proper respect for those who work with young children and their families.'

Asked by a delegate at a Policy Exchange event last week about why the proposals to move to a fully qualified early years Level 3 workforce had been abandoned, education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said, 'We're not imposing a requirement on the number of personnel at Level 3.

'What we want to do, and what Ofsted is proposing in its reforms, is to focus on outcomes for children, because I think there needs to be freedom for leaders in nurseries to decide what is the best complement of staff for their nursery.'

The minister cited research that showed the importance of graduate-level teachers in nurseries, adding, 'That's why I've highlighted graduate-level teachers as one of the the main differentiators at the moment between school nurseries and other nurseries.

'From this September, Ofsted for the first time is finding out what qualifications staff in nurseries have and then we're going to be looking at the outcomes they achieve and I think that's the way we should be doing it.'

Asked for a response, a DfE spokesperson said, 'We have been clear that we have no current plans to proceed with this policy.'

DfE's RESPONSE TO UNISON FOI REQUEST ON RATIOS: A SHORT EXTRACT

'As you're aware, Minister Elizabeth Truss announced in the Commons on 11 June 2013 that the proposals to change the staff:child ratios for nurseries and childminders, as outlined in the consultation document, would not proceed. The proposals were therefore withdrawn and the department published a breakdown of respondents.

'In applying section 35(1)(a), the Act requires that the department balances the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information. We concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and not disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this instance.

'Good government depends on good decision-making, and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of the options.

Without protecting the thinking space and the ability for ministers and senior officials to receive free and frank advice, there is likely to be a corrosive effect on the conduct of good government.'

with a risk that decision making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately. This is not in the public interest.

The Department has concluded that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this case for the reasons described above.'