Charity calls for £111m to boost early years quality

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The Family and Childcare Trust is calling on the Government to commit new funding to improve early education and childcare.

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The Family and Childcare Trust wants a new Early Excellence Fund to be introduced to support the upskilling of the workforce, which it says would achieve ‘significant boosts’ in quality in early education.

Further details of the fund, including how it would be spent, are included within its new report, ‘Putting quality at the heart of the early years’.

It proposes that the Early Excellence Fund would be used to achieve the following aims:

  • Ensuring there is at least one experienced early years graduate in every setting delivering free childcare, prioritising settings delivering free early education for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds;
  • Providing financial incentives for small childcare settings to provide training and professional development for non-graduate staff;
  • Establishing new quality networks to share expertise and link childcare providers with early intervention services;
  • Increasing the number of qualified early years special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) to provide advice and support to childcare settings.

The Family and Childcare Trust estimates the cost needed to meet these aims would be £111 million, which it says is a fraction of the £6 billion that will be spent each on the 30 free hours of childcare and the Tax-Free Childcare scheme from 2017.

The report, funded by Community Playthings, also identifies seven ‘key opportunities’ for improvement, including better wages and professional development for early years staff, introducing richer quality metrics for Ofsted inspection and regulation, as well as integrating childcare with early help services in children’s centres.

Claire Harding, Head of Research at Family and Childcare Trust, said, ‘Investing in high-quality childcare is a rare opportunity to support families’ social mobility and boosts children’s life chances.

‘While we welcome Government’s investment in the early years through the 30-hour offer and Tax-Free Childcare scheme, we are concerned that the lack of investment in quality in the early years will mean many families will struggle to access childcare that is good enough in quality to boost their children’s outcomes.

‘We call on Government to take a positive and active role in raising the quality of childcare.’

The Pre-School Learning Alliance and National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) welcomed the call for a new fund, but warned quality of settings could be under threat if funding shortfalls are not addressed.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA,said, 'We agree that quality should be at the heart of Government childcare strategy.

'The current expansion to 30 hours which will be rolled out in England next September could threaten quality if funding shortfalls are not addressed. This is particularly pertinent given that hourly rates, already inadequate for many, are set to stand still from 2017 whilst costs including the National Living Wage, Minimum Wage and business rates are rising.

'Above all, the fundamentals need to be right, so the flawed funding and delivery model for early years funded places needs urgent reform.'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said, 'To put it bluntly, additional funding for, for example, more graduates or SENCOs, will only be effective if there are enough early years providers still in business to employ them and as it stands, the ongoing lack of investment by Government has left many in the sector struggling to stay afloat.

'Any such initiatives, while undoubtedly positive, can only work as part of a wider move by Government to ensure that the early years is adequately funded.'

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said, 'We want all parents to have access to high quality, affordable childcare. There are already a record number of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, the proportion of children reaching the expected learning standards continues to rise and more than 16,000 specialist early years graduates have been trained.

'But we are determined to go further. That’s why we are creating a workforce strategy to help attract, retain and develop the very best staff and investing more than ever in the sector - £6 billion per year by 2020.'

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