The Government's proposal that half the staff in all daycare settings should be qualified to NVQ2 level - rather than NVQ3, as is already the case in many local authorities - has been roundly condemned by organisations representing inspectors of both the educational and care aspects of early years provision.
Under the proposals for the national care standards, which will form the basis for inspection when responsibility transfers from local authorities to Ofsted's Early Years Directorate in September 2001, the qualified half of the staff could be working towards achieving NVQ2 within a fixed time, rather than having already reached that standard - and the rest need not have or be working towards any qualification whatsoever. NVQ2 is suitable for those in a supervised role, whereas NVQ3 is appropriate for those who work unsupervised.
Diane Trout, chair of the Association of Advisors for the Under-Eights and their Families (AAEUF), members of which include many local authority registration and inspection officers, commented that the child-centred spirit of the Children Act 1989 - hitherto the basis for the inspection of care settings - appeared to have been lost. The proposal represented a 'watering down' of current practice in the majority of local authorities, which could compromise children's safety.
Moreover, the Children Act explicitly stated that managers of daycare should have experience, whereas the proposed national care standards do not. 'The Children Act says that child protection is paramount,' she said. 'It's a general feeling among inspection officers that we are compromising quality.' Julie Fisher, chair of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisors and Consultants, said that the standard should be for half the staff to be NVQ3 level or working towards it - and others should also be qualified or in training.
'It's unacceptable that anybody with the hugely responsible job of working with a young child should not be qualified or working towards it. We will not have the respect we need unless there's an expectation that people need qualifications. The longer someone spends studying how children learn and what their care needs are, the better they are able to meet them.'
Their views echo concerns expressed by Rosemary Murphy, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries' Association (NDNA), who said that the proposals would enourage nurseries to cut costs and lower standards.
- Most early years development and childcare partnerships and registration and inspection officers have not yet received their copies of the consultation on the national care standards - and some have rung up the Department for Education and Employment's order line only to be told the document is out of print.
A spokeswoman for the DfEE said copies were due to be more widely distributed this week following a short initial print run of 50 or so copies for journalists and others who needed quick access.
The consultation ends on 31 October and is available through DfEE publications on 0845 602 2260, quoting ref DfEE 142/ 2000. When the consultation was launched on July 28, the DfEE said the documents would 'shortly' be available on its website at www.dfee.gov.uk/daycare . At the time of going to press this was not yet the case. The DfEE said there had been technical problems and they should be available early this week.