At a meeting on Thursday organised by Ceeda, which has identified a Government funding gap of £824m in 2020/21, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said it was ‘beyond any doubt’ that the sector had amassed the necessary evidence on underfunding. He said, ‘If we can get half the politicians in the pub and say off the record what do you think, there would be no dispute.
‘I have heard officials say to me that until the sector collapses you are not likely to get the investment that is needed.’
At the meeting, which was seeking solutions to the funding crisis, which has been widely acknowledged outside of Government, one suggestion from the floor was to ‘take the Government to court for price fixing.’ A recent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Childcare and Early Education found there is around a 20 per cent shortfall between the Government funding provided and the actual per child cost of providing the ‘free’ 30 hours entitlement for parents.
Mr Leitch said he would explore the idea, though others pointed out the cost may have to be crowdfunded by the sector. ‘I think we should ask the question if there is the possibility of a legal challenge and if there was… we should do it’ he added.
Julie Hyde of CACHE said that the idea of a single group to ‘facilitate conversations across the sector’ was being looked at by the awarding organisation. She said, ‘We are looking at how we can pull together a commissioning group. Those conversations are in underway. My pledge is that that will happen it will be sooner rather than later. We see this as a primary issue.’ The awarding body saw itself as part of the sector, she said, adding they had run the ‘save our early years’ campaign to see the reinstatement of functional skills in addition to GCSEs as a Level 3 requirement in 2014.
Diana Lawson, director of Our Monkey Club, who sits on the Level 5 trailblazer group, said that while she supported the move, ‘I don’t want another group which is quite exclusive that ends up doing things to the sector’. ‘It is just making sure that it is really transparent’ she added.
Ms Hyde said ‘in order to have one voice and champion issues we have to come to a consensus - so there may be conversations where people have to compromise on their thinking… otherwise it will fail because we all have to have the end goal in mind.’
June O Sullivan, chief executive of LEYF (London Early Years Foundation), suggested a national campaign involving a high-profile PR agency on ‘what is childcare and what does it mean’ to generate parents’ support. She said childcare was an unseen ‘part of the infrastructure of this country’. ‘If you take nurseries away from the working population just think of the reduction of the tax receipts and of the p*ssed offness of the parents that they can’t go to work. Just think of the sexism of that – so women are not allowed to go to work because there is no childcare.’
She added, ‘What I’m really interested in is how do you take the public on. What happens if your nursery doesn’t open in the morning? You turn the story on its head and remind people that childcare isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it is serious for the infrastructure of this country.’
The debate was also marked by frustration from some practitioners saying there was no united pan-sector message. Tom Shea director of Child First nurseries, said, ‘Some of you have held yourselves up to be real champions but you can’t get yourselves together in a single body.’
Neil Leitch, responding, said the Early Years Alliance is the ‘only organisation that has stepped forward and attempted to consolidate with other organisations’. He said the reality was that memberships organisations were ‘self-protecting’ businesses. ‘We have done more than any other organisation to do this but on every occasion we have been frustrated’ he added.
The Department for Education says it is investing more than £3.6 billion in 2020-21 to support the free entitlement offers, including an extra £66 million announced in the autumn Spending Review.
Ceeda is currently undertaking a joint poll with Nursery world to gauge the sector's views on early years funding.
Jo Verill, managing director of Ceeda, told Nursery World that more than 900 people have taken part in the poll since it went live two weeks ago.
She said, 'Thursday's event and our ongoing poll have opened up a transparent conversation about the future direction and funding of childcare and early education policy, one which is long overdue. We urge everyone to give their views.'
- Click here for the poll, which closes on 10 February