The past 12 months have seen a wealth of developments in the early years and childcare sector. In England, the Government rolled out the first Children's Centres and extended schools, and in Scotland nursery nurses fought for improved pay and conditions in a long-running strike.
In November both Labour and the Conservatives got all fired up over childcare, pledging increased provision and parental choice in the run-up to the next general election. Within a short time childcare became one of the hottest political issues around, culminating earlier this month in the publication of the Government's ten-year strategy.
As the year comes to a close, nurseries, pre-schools, nannies and childminders must gear up for more changes in 2005. In April next year both the tax exemption scheme for employer-supported childcare and no-notice Ofsted inspections will come into effect.
With so many changes to date, Nursery World invited a range of people in the childcare sector to say what they would like to happen in the year ahead. Here they share their hopes for 2005 and reveal what is at the top of their Christmas wish lists.
Research fellow at the Social Market Foundation
The Government has accepted that access to affordable education and care for children has to mean access to high-quality provision and that this requires radical transformation in the early years workforce. By the end of 2005, I hope we have clear goals for long-term improvement in the qualifications of the workforce and a clear strategy for how the sector moves from its current low-pay, low-status situation to one in which early years professionals are on a par with primary school teachers.
In my opinion, this must be supported by Government funding for training.
Parents must not be left to foot the bill for quality improvements if we don't want poor parents to have the worst-quality provision.
Playwork trainer and owner of Playtime Out of School Club and ABC Day Nursery
I hope to see the new National Occupational Standards for Children's Care, Learning and Development launched successfully. The draft submitted to QCA proposed extending the age range to 16, but this is causing some conflict.
I support the change. Many practitioners work with a wide age range, perhaps because they work part-time in more than one setting, or because their setting incorporates nursery and out-of-school club facilities. Staff are, and must continue to be, multi-skilled across age ranges, and it makes sense to have qualifications that recognise that fact. Also, as out-of-school provision grows, I hope real consideration is given to the impact expansion may have on existing clubs, many of which have been started with grant funding. Expansion is only a good thing when it's needed. Does every school need a club of its own? Perhaps an excellent club is provided nearby. There must be parental choice, but there seems little point in funding a second club that closes down the first.
Professional Nanny of the Year
I would like to see continuing recognition of the vital role that nannies play, not just in childcare but in every industry. Their dedication and flexibility enables parents to continue their own careers. Nannies should be recognised as professionals and given the opportunity to develop their vocation by attending courses and keeping abreast of current issues. I would like to see a wider and more imaginative range of courses offered that are sympathetic towards nannies' long working hours and more affordable. In most other jobs, continuing professional development is the responsibility of the employer. It would be wonderful if more parents recognised this and supported their nannies in developing and extending their knowledge and expertise.
Chair of Unison Scotland's nursery nurses working party
While recognising that nursery nurses have achieved higher grades of pay across Scotland, the awards fall far short of our claim for a professional grade that reflects our professional role. It is my hope that through the ongoing National Review of the Early Years and Childcare Workforce, which hopefully will be concluded in the summer, the status of nursery nurses will be fully recognised.
Chairman of the Childcare Corporation
I have three wishes for 2005. Wish one would be for a professional status for senior nursery workers to reflect their true value to society - and to raise self-esteem generally in the sector. Wish two would be for some form of Government assistance in supporting nursery sector pay. Salaries, even at their current low level, are running at over 55 per cent of the cost of childcare. Parents cannot afford any further salary hikes to be passed on to them if the Government's aspirations for 'affordable' childcare are to be met, yet nursery workers deserve greater remuneration. Wish three would have to be for a greater degree of honesty in the Government's childcare policy. Are current expectations totally sustainable? Who, for example, is going to pick up the cost of Sure Start and Neighbourhood Nursery provision after the subsidy period expires? - especially as these bodies are often attracting nursery staff away from the private sector with salaries 30 to 40 per cent higher than good private employers can afford to pay.
Head of Canterbury Children's Centre in Bradford
Nationally, I hope that central government ensures that all Children's Centres receive the funding they need, so that no centre receives less than any other and yet is expected to deliver the same services. Regionally, I hope local authorities work together to ensure there is consistency in the implementation of plans, so that the success of any one sector is not dependent on local authority policy. And locally, I hope all sectors embrace the changes needed to make true integration work, so that what you earn is not dependent on what sector you work for.
Minister for education and lifelong learning in Wales
As a minister I try to turn my hopes and dreams into ambitions and plans.
It is an exciting time to be involved in early years in Wales. All three-year-olds in Wales should now have a free part-time place available to them if their parents want it. An additional 11,000 early years places have been created and integrated centres set up across Wales. A new Foundation Phase curriculum for three- to seven-year-olds has been introduced and is being piloted. The early years were a big beneficiary of the recent budget announcement, which will enable me to deliver many more policies in order to achieve our goals for Wales to be a country where learning for our children is valued and our children are given the best start in life.
Director of the Children's Play Council
Play provision should not be a lottery. We hope that the Government will commit itself to a national strategy for children's play. Delivery on the election promise of a 200m lottery fund would be a start, but the controversy over 'play's missing millions' has become a distraction. Play provision needs to be central to local planning for children, not reliant upon the lottery. We welcome the new childcare strategy's renewed commitment to a play-based framework for early learning, but play is important in its own right - for older children too, not just as a foundation for learning. Enjoyment, according to Every Child Matters, should now be an outcome in its own right, for all ages of children; play should be a core element of the new children's centres and extended schools.
A play strategy would take in childcare and early education as well as supervised play services, ensuring that children's right to enjoy their free time is at the centre of the expansion, and it would extend to open spaces, parks, streets and housing. All these areas are crucial for children's outdoor play. The Welsh Assembly and the Mayor of London, each committed to serious, cross-cutting play strategies, are showing the way.
If future generations in England are to grow up fit and healthy in body and mind, the Government needs to follow their example. NW