Plans are under way to set up a new All-Party Parliamentary Group for early years and childcare, following a campaign led by Cheryl Hadland, founder of Tops Day Nurseries.
The nursery chain is sponsoring the establishment of the cross-party group of MPs and peers with the hope of setting it up following the general election.
Manchester-based chain Kids Allowed and the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA) are also on board as sponsors.
Representatives from these organisations met recently and agreed to start the process of setting up the new APPG, with the aim of it being ratified shortly after the general election.
The APPG is also seeking other co-sponsors from the sector to get involved.
Ms Hadland has held meetings with a number of local MPs over recent months to talk to them about the issues facing nurseries’ long-term survival.
The positive reaction she has received has led her to believe that an APPG can have a positive influence on the issues facing the private and voluntary childcare sectors.
‘I’ve been delighted that my local MPs have shown a strong interest in the issues and concerns of nurseries in their constituency,’ Ms Hadland said. ‘This has led to them tabling questions and speaking privately to ministers on our behalf.
‘I believe there is a lot of potential for an APPG on early education and childcare to create a positive dialogue with the Government about issues facing our sector, and for those involved to build strong relationships with key MPs and peers who can speak up on our behalf.
‘The new Parliament also offers new opportunities for our sector to ask ministers to look again at key early years policies, and to work with us to ensure we’re able to deliver high-quality childcare in a financially sustainable way.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘For far too long, policy decisions have been made without any consultation with, or input from, those working in the early years sector.
‘Establishing an APPG will be an important and welcome step towards ensuring that the views of the sector – and in particular, private and voluntary providers – are heard at the highest level. With so many significant early years changes coming into effect this year, building a united political presence is more important than ever.
‘From the Rewind on Ratios campaign to the recent victory over the Level 3 GCSE rule, we’ve seen how effective our sector can be when we work together. As an organisation representing pre-schools, nurseries, and childminders from across the country, the Alliance is excited to be a founding partner of this important cross-sector initiative.’
Speaking more about the thinking behind setting up the new APPG, Ms Hadland told Nursery World, ‘I feel that our sector is still fragmented. We have no sector skills council like the social care sector, we have no historical professional traditions and financial advantages like schools and colleges have compared with day nurseries; few colleagues are represented by unions; nursery owners’ and managers’ issues are not sufficiently understood by the DfE; the very biggest chains don’t have the same issues as the single nurseries.
‘Lobbying is something the National Day Nurseries Association, PLA, Pacey, Bright Horizons, Busy Bees and others have done for years, but an APPG is different because MPs take the lead and responsibility themselves, and our job in the sector is to make sure they are fully informed of the facts and understand not only the issues in isolation but likely effects of their decisions on the providers.
‘I discovered through talking to MPs that they and their own teams do understand our issues when they are informed, but the civil servants briefing them are quite siloed so don’t link the implications of, say, qualification or ratio changes with living wage increases, or reduced funding with increasing business rates.
‘The small group of 400 state-funded nursery schools have managed to achieve huge beneficial financial transitional arrangements through their APPG and I have high hopes for a more inclusive group achieving even more for all of us, focused on care and education in the early years sector, and indeed for the parents/carers, employers and communities we serve.’
Ms Hadland (pictured right) has invited a specialist parliamentary public affairs agency, Connect Communications, to oversee the establishment of the group and to provide secretariat support to ensure it successfully engages MPs and peers.
She added, ‘It is important this APPG is professionally run in order to achieve real results for the sector.
‘We would encourage other organisations to consider sponsoring the group and play a role in ensuring this APPG is strong and successful in standing up for our interests.’
If you are interested in becoming a co-sponsor of the APPG, contact email@example.com.
WHAT IS AN APPG?
An All-Party Parliamentary Group is a loose, cross-party group of MPs and peers from the House of Lords who form an association based on their interest in a certain issue or policy area. When run effectively, APPGs can have a significant influence on Government decisions.
The first APPG for Childcare was set up in 1997 by Caroline Flint, then a newly elected Labour MP.
More recently, the APPG for Nursery Schools and Nursery Classes in Primary Schools has successfully put the spotlight on calls from maintained nursery schools for sufficient funding to ensure their long-term survival.
It was launched in January 2016, with Pen Green acting as secretariat, and its first chair was Graham Stuart MP, former chair of the Education Select Committee.
It was set up to provide a forum to inform Government and ensure the voice of this part of the sector was heard.
Now chaired by the former shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, the APPG led to a debate in Parliament in February this year on maintained nursery schools, highlighting their funding shortfalls.
It followed a survey of nursery schools, carried out by Pen Green for the APPG, which found 57 of the 340 that responded expected to be forced to close by July.
It regularly meets in the House of Commons, and hundreds of nursery school head teachers and others have attended since it was set up.
Commenting, Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘It has been a useful way of raising the profile of the maintained sector and galvanising the sector to become more active in ensuring councillors and MPs know more about them and their issues.’