Daycare Trust conference 2012: 'Our childcare system is expensive and confusing' says Elizabeth Truss

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In her first keynote speech to the sector, Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss re-iterated a commitment to universal services and giving the sector more autonomy.

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Speaking at the Daycare Trust’s annual conference in London, she said, ‘We need high quality childcare that is flexible and affordable, and it should be a universal offer. However, we do have problems. The Government spends £6bn a year on childcare, which as a share of GDP is twice the OECD average. While this is the right prioritisation, providers are struggling and families are facing rising costs. The system is expensive and confusing, and for second earners it often doesn’t make sense to work.’

Ms Truss identified underlying problems to do with status and pay of the workforce. ‘Childcare workers earn 40 per cent less here than they would earn in France, for example. The sector needs to be attractive to graduates and there needs to be clear career paths. We know from the academies programme that autonomy works, with these schools improving results at twice the national average. This model gives more power to head teachers to pay, recruit and retain quality staff.’

CHILDMINDING

The status of childminding was a topic of hot debate in the morning session. Responding to questions from the floor Ms Truss acknowledged the ‘excellent work’ that childminders do but pointed to declining numbers.

‘We are looking at ways that administration can be made easier for childminders and at the opportunities provided by other models such as the kind of agencies that France operates,’ she said. ‘It is important that there is a level playing field and that childminders have equal access to government funding. The profile of the sector needs to be raised and childminders themselves need to develop this.’

FUNDING

Ms Truss emphasised the need for funding to be simplified and more transparent, and highlighted the recent publication of local authority allocations for two-year-olds on the DfE website.

‘The Government is investing £500m between 2013 and 2014 for the two-year-old offer and it will be delivered with greater transparency,’ she said.  ‘For the first time local authorities and parents can see exactly how much providers are getting. Local authorities should be funding all good and outstanding providers, and they need to raise awareness as funding will be linked to participation.’

A delegate from the floor questioned the minister on what area cost adjustments meant, and asked ‘will this mean that children in poor areas get less’?

Ms Truss replied that cost adjustments were based on the cost of staff in different areas of the country. ‘This makes sense as delivery depends on the local labour market. We want to make sure we are paying enough – and we are focusing on deprived areas including London to ensure that quality staff can be retained.’

On the subject of participation funding, David Fitzgerald, deputy director, Foundation Years, DfE said that allocations beyond 2016 would be based on the  2015 census.

Claire Schofield, director of communications, membership and policy at the NDNA welcomed the minister’s commitment to universal childcare, but said that the funding was based on the ‘status quo’, and asked how this could be stretched to create a ‘world class workforce’?

Ms Truss concluded that the direction of travel in addressing this and other issues around quality of the workforce was in achieving ‘simplification’ and said that there would be more on this in the Government’s response to the Nutbrown review, which is due soon.

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