'More Great Childcare': Unions worry that EYPs will be sidelined

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Unions have raised concerns about the move to replace Early Years Professionals with early years teachers.

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Aspect, which represents EYPs has said it is dismayed about the proposal.

Claire Dent, lead professional for the EYPS national committee in Prospect’s Aspect Group, said, ‘We already have a well-trained, motivated workforce only too willing and able to deliver excellence for children. It does not make political, economic or educational sense in these times of austerity to waste time and resources inventing a new process when the outcome for children is already robust, as proven by hard evidence, and the case for such a new and expensive proposition is so thin.

‘Early years professional status-holders would welcome the opportunity to work with qualified teachers as equally valued professionals, helping to provide the right care and education for children from birth through to 18 - but as equals, not as subordinates.’

Ms Dent said there were already 10,000 EYPs and 2,200 on training contracts, funded for the next three years.

Aspect also said it was concerned about increasing ratios in early years settings, which she said would reduce the quality time professionals have to work with young children.

‘If the cost of childcare is the driver for this change, surely it would make more sense to keep early years professional status as the gold standard qualification, using any money assigned for retraining staff to subsidise childcare fees for working families,’ she added.

Aspect also said that removing regulatory responsibility from local authorities had ‘serious implications’, because Ofsted could only provide a ‘snapshot’ of what was happening at a particular time and could not ‘robustly monitor the culture and standards’ in nurseries.

Unison, in its response, echoed concerns about where EYPs fitted into the Government's plans.

Ben Thomas, Unison national officer, said, ‘EYPs have been left in limbo as the issue of their status still stands unresolved. They appear to become teachers in name only, with none of the salary benefits. I fear they will be used as an excuse to reduce adult: child ratios with no guarantees of improved pay.

'Liz Truss has set out a vague aspiration that the pay of staff will improve without any clear vision of how this will happen. The difference with many of the countries that she chooses to compare England with is that they have national minimum standards of pay linked to qualification levels. That is what we need to see in England if pay for early years staff is to improve to fair levels.’

He also warned against cuts to staff: child ratios and said that weakening the rules around ratios would stretch childcare workers ‘beyond reasonable limits’.

The union said that most good providers already operated with more than the minimum statutory ratios because they know it is the right thing to do for the young children in their care.

‘When parents drop their child off at nursery they have the right to know that they will be as safe as possible. Cutting the number of people looking after children as they play and learn could make accidents and incidents like more likely.’

On the issue of local authorities, he said, ‘Liz Truss appears to be demonizing local authorities for sucking funds out of early years in her report. Many LAs provide excellent support to early years, providing training and quality support.

'Most LAs have a far greater knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of a setting than Ofsted and have established quality control measures because a snap shot inspection every four years is not enough.

‘There is a huge risk of loss of expertise and local knowledge if LAs are completely excluded from their role in supporting early years settings. LAs have already been cut to the bone and any further cuts will leave many nurseries high and dry.’

Voice, the union for educational professionals, agreed that changing ratios would ‘cut corners and compromise children’s safety and the quality of provision’.

The union also said it was concerned that without qualified teacher status (QTS) for early years teachers a two-tier system would be created.

Deborah Lawson, general secretary, said, ‘It is also important that Early Years Professional Status should not be downgraded and become the poor relation of teaching. Most Early Years Professionals are not frustrated teachers, they are qualified childcare professionals in their own right and they want to be recognised for that and given a proper career and qualifications structure. They don’t want to be on the bottom of rung of the education career ladder as a ‘teacher’s assistant’.

‘Voice is also concerned about the potential for further "schoolification of early childhood", with the report’s emphasis on "traditional nursery classes" of 13.

'We advocate a play-based early years curriculum in nurseries, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets – whether that is in a nursery or a school setting.’

She added, ‘I have reservations about the removal of separate Ofsted registration. Do many schools want to take two-year-olds and are they ready to do so? Parents are not guaranteed that their children will get a place in reception class.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, she welcomed the Government’s ‘long overdue recognition that early years staff, entrusted with our children, should be regarded as professionals, with better pay, career paths and respect.’

But she added, ‘Before we embark on "pile them high" childcare, the Government needs to make clear how these changes will be made. Will there be support for current staff to gain qualifications? Will loving and caring staff with decades of expertise be cast on the scrap heap if they can't get a GCSE in maths? This is yet another case of an ill-thought out change by the Government.

‘Increasing the ratio of children per qualified member of staff will mean there will be fewer opportunities to spend focused time with each child. Parents and carers will immediately spot the lack of importance placed upon the skills we’d want from those looking after our children. Where is the emphasis on caring, patient, loving staff that spend one-to-one time with young children, reassuring and supporting them?

‘The minister appears to be pro-European when it comes to increasing ratios, but remains a Eurosceptic when it comes to matching Europe for subsidising childcare, risking an in-out approach to early years provision.’

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