'More Great Childcare': Interview with Elizabeth Truss

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Nursery World was invited to Durand Academy in south London to meet education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss in advance of the publication of the 'More great childcare' report.

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The minister shared highlights from the report and talked about the Government's proposals to raise the standard of childcare qualifications, set up childminder agencies, and give nurseries with highly qualified staff more flexibility over staff: child ratios.

Early Years Teachers

The early years teacher is going to be required to pass the same tests on literacy and numeracy as school teachers. We’ll be setting that out in teacher standards – Charlie Taylor will be doing that in due course through the Teaching Agency.

We also want to see more flexibility between early years teachers and primary teachers and we want to see more primary teachers in early years and vice versa. And I think Durand’s a very good example where you see a sort of flow through of teaching staff and teaching assistants.’

Early Years Educators

The early years educator will be basically the new full and relevant standard for childcare. So what we’re going to say is that everybody who counts in future ratios, not retrospectively, in the future, when they enter a course they will need a C in English and Maths at GCSE. They will need to be training in a good or outstanding setting. And also we’re going to be consulting on the criteria, but we’re going to improve the standards on things like child development and other course study as well. There won’t be one qualification. There will be qualifications that do or do not comply with the Early Years Educator criteria.

On Childminder agencies

We’re not setting them up, we’re enabling them. This is an enabling piece of legislation, which will mean that agencies can operate. There could be a variety of models - they could operate, independently, based on existing nanny agencies, or other agencies out of schools. The idea is that they provide a one-stop shop for childminders. One of the issues we’ve got is recruiting new childminders into the profession. There’s been a big drop in childminder numbers over the past 20 years.

So the idea is that if you want to be a childminder you register with the agency, they would do things like sort out your training, your insurance, they would market your services to parents, they’d deal with Government funding, collect money from parents and you as a childminder would be paid as part of that.

The agency will be inspected by Ofsted and the agency would have quality assurance. So for example, the requirements might be things like the agency has to check out the property where the childminder is operating, they have to provide the childminder with a certain amount of training per year, they have to be in regular touch with the childminder etc.  

NW: So you are taking childminders out of Ofsted? Will they still have individual Ofsted inspections in their homes?

Ofsted will inspect the agency and sample inspect the childminders in the agency.

 

NW: So, not every childminder will have an inspection?

It’s a different concept. Individual childminders will carry on having Ofsted inspections. You could almost see a childminder agency as like a nursery, with people operating out of their own home.

NW: So what you’re saying is, it’s voluntary?

Yes, it’s completely voluntary. The agency is responsible for the care that childminders are providing in their homes, the agency will be held to account. It will be responsible in making sure it’s high quality and that those childminders are receiving training.

NW: And I think you mentioned you will have to legislate for this? When?

You have to legislate because it’s not legal at the moment, because Ofsted don’t have the powers to inspect an agency.

Ratios

NW: And with ratios, when will those changes come in – and won’t you need to legislate for those changes?

September 2013. The voluntary aspect - it’s a bit like the ratios for three and four-year-olds at the moment. You can have 1:8 without a qualified teacher, and 1:13 with a qualified teacher, so it will be the same: 1 to 4 without an Early Years Educator or 1 to 6 with [two-year-olds]. We’re consulting on what the qualification might be,  but it’s looking strongly likely that. The consultation is what are the qualification requirements.

On babies, I want to reassure people. We want to set the bar on that quite high to try and encourage really high-quality experts in child development into the baby sector. What I think about two-year-olds in particular is that’s when vocabulary is developing and it’s really important to have well-qualified people there. And we are prepared to give more flexibility to nurseries who do that. I think babies are different, and I think that’s more about making sure we have a place for experts in baby development in nurseries.

I would say that on babies, although we’re not doing it, a country like France operates at 1:5 on babies.

And in countries like Denmark [there are no mandatory limits on the number of children staff can look after] - the point is the judgement is given to the nursery to make. I’m not saying this is the way we want nurseries to operate - I’m saying we need to give more judgement to the nurseries. That’s they way they do in Denmark, that’s why  they trust nurseries, because they’re highly trained people with pedagogical  understanding, who then do it as appropriate. That’s why I’m reluctant to say, this time of day do that, and lay it out from central Government.

I just really want to get that message across – it is really about nurseries being able to operate as they deem in their professional judgement. If people think in their professional judgement that they don’t want to do that and or they want to operate at this particular ratio, then they’re absolutely entitled to do that, and that’s what they’re entitled to do in Denmark. The problem I think is that at the moment our system doesn’t give the flexibility and the headroom for those high quality nurseries to hire the quality staff they might want to hire.

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