The document sets out plans for improvement across Welsh Government departments including Education and Skills, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Health and Social Services, Housing and Regeneration, as well as Local Government.
‘Building a brighter future: early years and childcare plan’ (pictured), recognises the importance of high-quality early education and childcare in reducing poverty and outlines ways in which to improve provision.
Flexibility and accessibility of early education and childcare
The plan states that for early education and childcare to meet the requirements of families in Wales it needs to be of a high standard, available at the times and places where it is needed and at a price that parents can afford.
To further meet the needs of parents, the Welsh Assembly proposes improving the flexibility of the Flying Start programme, which provides part-time free childcare to disadvantaged two- and three-year-olds.
Also, to increase the flexibility and number of hours of free early education for children aged three and four in Wales’ Foundation Phase.
Currently, three- to- four-year-olds in Wales receive a minimum of ten hours a week of free early education through the Foundation Phase.
Most local authorities offer the free hours in equal amounts over four or five days with parents limited to morning or afternoon sessions.
The Assembly will also look into how to meet the needs of parents who work atypical hours, explore different models for wrap-around childcare and increase the quality and number of Welsh-medium settings.
Development and assessment in the early years
According to the plan, a priority for the Welsh Government is to develop a more coherent system of assessing, tracking and monitoring the development and progress of children in the early years.
Currently Wales has no nationally consistent approach to measuring a child’s progress.
As part of this, a new tool for the Foundation Phase to track children’s progress from entry to the end of the phase, will be created, along with a development and assessment framework.
Both will be rolled out across Wales during 2014-15 to be used by service providers and practitioners to assess and track a child’s progress at relevant points from birth to age seven.
Current early years regulation and inspection will also be reviewed.
Childcare and play workforce
The plan also sets out ways to develop the childcare and early years workforce.
The Welsh Assembly has agreed funding to increase the number of childcare qualification places to support the expansion of the Flying Start programme.
In addition to this, the Care Council for Wales will work with higher education institutions to develop existing degree-level qualifications to boost the number of graduates working within the childcare sector.
Apprenticeship frameworks will also be reviewed to ensure they meet the needs of the sector and are compliant with new legislation, including a new level 5 framework for advanced practitioners.
In order to close the gap between childcare workforce qualifications across Wales, the Assembly will consult on minimum qualification levels, graduate leadership, CPD and career pathways. A ten-year workforce plan will also be developed.
The plan also states that the Welsh government will work with the Sector Skills Councils, through existing funding, to increase the number of play workers and childcare staff at Level 3.
As part of the government's commitment to improving play opportunities, it will place a duty on local authorities to secure 'sufficient play opportunities', as identified in play sufficiency assessments and action plans.
Support and develop the childcare market
While the early years and childcare plan acknowledges that Wales has a ‘vibrant and diverse’ childcare market which supports parents to work and train, ministers say they want to increase its capacity and quality.
To do this, the Welsh Assembly proposes working with the sector and local authorities through a range of approaches, they include:
- Running a campaign from autumn 2013 in two areas with a lack of childcare provision to encourage new business starts in childcare.
- Consider testing childcare co-operatives in areas that do not have sufficient childcare.
The plan, which also focuses on children’s health, proposes making it illegal for people to smoke in cars which carry children, along with encouraging the introduction of smoke-free policies in all playgrounds.
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of the union Voice, said, 'I welcome the launch of the plan and its commitment to the importance of "high-quality early education and childcare".
'In contrast to the statistics-led, testing-enforced regime in England that seems to put targets ahead of children, the Welsh Government’s plan focuses on "the experience of the individual child".
'We are delighted to read about developing the workforce through training and closer collaborative working, and commitments to raise qualification standards for entrants to childcare.
'We look forward to working with ministers and officials on taking the plan forward.'
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries (NDNA) Cymru, said, 'NDNA Cymru welcomes the Government’s Early Years and Childcare Plan and supports the majority of its aims for early years.
'We believe day nurseries providing high quality care give children the right start in life and are the best environment for children. We would urge local authorities and schools to work with day nurseries to provide the care needed.
'Another big step towards achieving this would be a better approach to funding. There has been a disparity of funding between Flying Start and Foundation Phase and an integrated approach is needed to make funding fair.'
She added, 'We support the Government in tackling child poverty and part of this is helping parents get back into employment or receive the training they need for the workplace. Day nurseries play a vital role in allowing parents to achieve this.'
Mike Greenaway, director of Play Wales, said, 'We welcome the publication of Building a Brighter Future and the Welsh Government’s commitment to commence the duty on local Authorities to secure sufficient play opportunities in their areas as part of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010.
'We also welcome the recognition of the importance of suitably trained and qualified playworkers to fulfil the plan’s objectives. Wales is the first country in the world to legislate for children’s play, securing and providing play opportunities contribute to making Wales a play-friendly place for our children.’
Claire Protheroe, manager for the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) Cymru, said, ' PACEY Cymru is glad to see the focus on high quality education and childcare within this plan. As an association we have long understood and promoted the importance and benefits of quality education and childcare provision, especially for those children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
'In particular, we would welcome the introduction of a Voluntary Childcare Approval Scheme for over-eights childcare to support a drive in quality improvement across Wales.
'Whilst recognising the need to ensure better outcomes for children around numeracy and literacy, we feel that it is of great importance that the ethos and philosophy of the Foundation Phase and in particular the emphasis on learning through play is not lost.
'PACEY Cymru believes that the current choice of provision in Flying Start and early years education settings across Wales needs to be addressed, with many small scale childcare settings unable to access funding to provide Flying Start or Foundation Phase education. Access to smaller group settings can be particularly important for children from vulnerable families or children with additional needs who may not settle well into larger group settings. We are calling on Welsh Government to allow greater choice for parents in choosing which setting their child enters for funded Flying Start and Foundation Phase provision.
'We look forward to supporting the Welsh Government to ensure the success of these new proposals in bringing professionalism and higher standards to the early years sector in Wales.'