Speaking at Achieving Two Year-olds’ (A2YO) first national network meeting in London, on the day the Government announced its u-turn on ratios, Ms Truss re-iterated her vision for childcare, and emphasised to local authority delegates the vital role they have to play in making the free entitlement for twos a success.
Local authorities are currently waiting for the Government’s response to the ‘Changes to the role of local authorities in early education and childcare’ consultation, which proposes that councils will no longer assess the quality of settings.
In a reflective speech Ms Truss highlighted that LAs need to prioritise on attracting new, quality providers to areas where they are lacking, and work effectively with children’s centres to support the programme. She said they are also in a strong position to assist with the development of childminder agencies.
On the subject of the recently launched apprenticeship bursary scheme, she said ‘Local authorities have a role to encourage providers to enter the scheme. Qualifications are now critical and will be reviewed and updated as part of the Ofsted inspection regime. Ofsted is currently recruiting new HMIs for early years to ensure their inspections are of high quality, and that inspectors are able to provide advice on improvement.’
Ms Truss also flagged up the desire to make early years and primary education a continuum.
‘We believe the creation of the new Early Years Teacher will encourage more teachers to move between early years and reception, and bridge that gap,’ she said.
In the morning session, David Fitzgerald, deputy director – Foundation Years: Early Education and Funding Division at the DfE, fielded questions from delegates who were keen to know when the Government would respond to the consultation.
Many voiced concern that quality would be jeopardised if the Government removed their support role.
Mr Fitzgerald said, ‘It is important to understand that the Government is not saying that local authorities should have no role in supporting providers but when resources are tight, their efforts need to be concentrated where they are needed most, and they should not be required to perform a similar role to Ofsted. Where providers value their support that will continue.’
He added that the outcome of the consultation would feed in fresh statutory guidance that needs to be in place for September.
‘We understand the concerns of local authorities, that where we are removing their duties we are reducing their leverage in internal funding decisions,’ he said.
The number of two-year-olds currently in places stands at 55,000, with a target to reach 75,000 by September.
James Hempsall, director of Hempsall’s which is working in partnership with Mott MacDonald to support the delivery of the two-year-old offer, clarified the difference between children and places, outlining that more than two children are able to use a full-time equivalent place.
He said that more development needed to be done to involve childminders, and that schools represented a useful opportunity ‘where the conditions are right’.
‘Significant progress has been made with identifying and reaching families, linking to outreach when and where it is required and communicating effectively with parents,’ he said.
‘As we move towards targets for 2014 it is important to refocus on childcare places development because institutional memory is different across the country. That’s why events like this and beyond are crucial to share expertise.’
To help local authorities engage with providers, A2YO is launching fully funded provider roadshows. These will be structured around the A2YO provider checklist that was published in the Spring, and can be adapted for each local area as a way of supporting and recruiting providers. They may be standalone or joint events with neighbouring authorities.
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