Survey reveals early years sector's opposition to Government reforms

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Confidence among early years practitioners in the Department for Education’s consultative process is extremely low, a survey from the Pre-school Learning Alliance reveals.


Neil Leitch says the survey's results show that the Government's early years reforms are 'misguided'

Just 3 per cent of childcare professionals feel that the Government adequately consults with the childcare sector when developing policy, the survey suggests.

The findings are published in the Early Years Agenda report, the first in a series of research papers that will contribute to the Alliance’s Early Years Manifesto for Government.

Nearly 1,300 (1,270) early years practitioners took part in the survey, which the Alliance says is double the response rate for any early years Government consultation in the past 18 months, and one of the most representative early years surveys of the past five years.

In a speech at the Alliance’s annual conference today, chief executive Neil Leitch will say, ‘When the minister announced in Parliament that the entire change of heart on ratios was down to political divide, and offered not a hint of acknowledgement to the views of the sector, for me, it set the scene of things to come.

‘I want to show you exactly how according to Government, a consultation is supposed to be conducted. This is their own website; this is their own guidance and this is their own statement: “Engagement should begin early in policy development when the policy is still under consideration and views can genuinely be taken into account.”

‘And yet, in our survey, when we asked the question: Do you think the Government adequately consults with the sector? – just 40 of the nearly 1,300 respondents said ‘Yes’. That's two and a half percent.’

‘Over the past year, we’ve seen legislation passed that will see the introduction of childminder agencies - despite majority opposition; we’ve seen the removal of local authorities as the main source of support and advice for providers – despite majority opposition. We've seen the introduction of policy allowing for baseline assessments - despite majority opposition. And I could go on.

‘Let’s delve a little bit deeper. Last year, the DfE produced its own guidance on policy-making – a list of five key questions the department should ask itself to follow when developing policy. Their own guidance tells them they should ask themselves: “Who made you the expert? Are you confident that you are providing world-leading policy advice based on the very latest expert thinking?”

‘I think that the answer to that is “only when it suits”.’

The survey shows the strength of opposition to Government reforms.

More than eight in ten (81 per cent) of early years practitioners oppose plans for schools to take more two-year-olds

A similar proportion of childminders (86 per cent) say they do not intend to join a childminder agency.

Just 18 per cent are support plans to introduce a new baseline assessment at the start of Reception.

Speaking before the conference Mr Leitch said, ‘The first five years of a child’s life are crucial to their long-term development. As such, early years policy should be based on the knowledge and expertise of experienced childcare professionals who know what is best for young children’s learning and development.

‘These results prove that Government reforms are taking childcare in this country in completely the wrong direction. Rather than introducing changes that will support early learning opportunities and give children the best start in life, the government is trying to deliver ‘childcare on the cheap’.

He added, ‘When a whole sector of professionals is telling you that your proposals are misguided, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.’

But the Department for Education dismissed the findings as unrepresentative of the sector.

In response, a Government spokesperson said, ‘This is a self-selecting survey based on a relatively small number of providers. It does not include the many school nurseries that already provide almost a third of childcare places.

‘Recent figures show that the cost of childcare in England is falling for the first time in 12 years, while continuing to rise in Scotland and Wales. This is because we have enabled high quality providers to expand and enabled more school nurseries to open from 8-6 and offer places to two year olds. And our reforms to early years teaching have seen a 25 percent increase in new recruits.’

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