While stopping short of promising to address the sector’s clarion call for more funding, the deputy prime minister also said the amount providers received was ‘not fossilised’ and ‘is something that future governments need to look at.’
Speaking at an event organised by the Pre-School Learning Alliance, he called the audience ‘bolshy’ and said, ‘Clearly you feel very strongly that the money you are receiving is not sufficient. To that I would say this: it is dependent on which part of the country you are in and local authorities will be receiving different amounts.’
The government needed to come up with a clearer calculation for councils so they could pass on more of this funding to nurseries, he added.
The Alliance has produced research showing that providers are having to make up shortfalls of up to 21 per cent per year for funded children, to which Mr Clegg said, ‘The suggestion that I or any rational person wouldn’t look at the evidence I full-throatedly refute. The last thing I would do would be to pioneer something which makes such a difference and not make sure government allocated an sufficient amount of money. Of course this needs to be kept under review.’
He said though that the money hadn’t been ringfenced by government because local authorities were facing funding cuts.
But in his speech outlining the Liberal Democrats’ election pledges, he said, 'The amount we give to Local Authorities to fund our free childcare offers is based on a higher hourly rate than the national average that early years providers charge parents’.
He said ‘From the beginning, we've been adamant that this money should be used to help more young children get the best possible start in life. We don't want it spent on anything else. And we will continue to push Local Authorities to pass on as much of this funding as possible to frontline providers.’
On schools, he repeated a pledge made in September, that by 2020, every childcare setting should have a member of staff who holds Qualified Teacher Status.
Mr Clegg also said, ‘I want to be equally clear that we are not looking to create a future where every nursery and primary school is filled with rows and rows of toddlers learning their times tables by rote in preparation for splitting the atom at seven.… But, with more parents entering the workforce, we need as wide a range of high quality providers available as possible to support families.’
One provider, who said she has three pre-schools, said, ‘I didn’t enter into this job to get QTS. I think we have to be valuing the qualifications we have now.’
Another asked about the drop offs with level 3 apprenticeships, saying the government was creating a ‘large hole in terms of new entrants coming in’.
Mr Clegg said that evidence showed that practitioners with higher qualifications raised standards. He said, ‘we are not asking everyone to have a degree in astrophysics, we are asking for fairly uncontroversial expectations of maths and English, and I am not going to apologise for that. Quality does require we are a bit more exacting about the qualifications people bring to the sector.’
He also said, ‘I don’t think we should automatically assume that schools can’t meet the [needs of] two-, three- and four-year-olds.’
The Liberal Democrats manifesto pledges include:
- extending the existing 15 hours for 38 weeks a year to all two-year-olds.
- extending the 15 hours for 38 weeks a year to all children between the ages of 9 and 24 months where both parents work (or where the parent works in a single parent family).
- over the long term, increase this offering to 20 hours per week for 38 weeks a year for all children between the ages of 2 and 4 years, and to all children between the ages of 9 and 24 months where both parents work.