Labour unveils 'radical' plans on childcare funding and workforce

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A Labour Government would increase provider funding to £7.35 an hour for free hours, introduce a national pay scale, and move towards a graduate-led workforce.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the Greenhouse Project nursery in Liverpool

In his leader’s speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool tomorrow (Wednesday 26 September), Jeremy Corbyn will announce his proposals for a ‘radical expansion and transformation of free universal childcare.’

The Labour leader will set out plans to introduce 30 hours childcare for all two-, three- and four-year-olds with no means testing, and phase in additional subsidised hours of childcare on top of these entitlements.

The additional hours would be free for families with incomes under £16,200 and £4 per hour for those with incomes above £66,000 a year.

Mr Corbyn will say that the current ‘patchy’ support for the early years is holding back too many parents and families, with Government childcare policy ‘free in name only’.

Labour will announce its plan to triple the graduate workforce, increase the proportion of staff with qualifications of Level 4 and above, and move towards requiring all staff to be qualified to Level 3.

The party will also create a national childcare access portal online with the aim of simplifying the childcare system for parents. Labour says this improved, simplified system would replace the current fragmented and often confusing one of childcare vouchers and credits.

Labour proposes to:

  • Extend current commitments on 'free' hours to all three- and four-year-olds, not just those whose parents are in work
  • Extend 15 hours to all two-year-olds
  • Extend two-year-old entitlement to 30 hours by the end of the Parliament
  • Phase in subsidised provision on top of these entitlements, ranging between costing nothing for families whose incomes are under £16,200 and £4 per hour for families with incomes over £66,000
  • Put an extra £4.8bn into early years provision to ensure that offering these hours is affordable for providers
  • Increase funding for providers to £7.35 per hour of contact time by the end of the roll out
  • Transition to a fully-qualified, graduate-led workforce as part of a two-term strategy
  • Gradually require all staff to be qualified to Level 3 or working towards a level 3 qualification, including offering routes for those already working in the sector to attain these qualifications on the job
  • Increase the proportion of staff with qualifications Level 4 and above from 20 per cent to 45 per cent
  • Increase the graduate workforce three-fold, so graduate staff can spend 80 per cent of their time in contact with children and 20 per cent supervising other staff
  • Require one SENCO per 100 children
  • Increase the ratio of staff to children by recruiting almost 150,000 extra staff over seven years
  • Establish a national pay scale for all early years staff
  • Create a national online childcare portal, under which the full cost of funded childcare, subsidised hourly rates paid by parents and the subsidy itself, would be paid directly by Government to providers

New early years workforce payscale under Labour plans

Qualification level DfE Provider Survey 2016, hourly rate Hourly rate under new pay scale
Level 1 £7.20 £10.00
Level 2 £7.20 £10.00
Level 3 £8.10 £11.25
Level 4 £9.30 £12.92
Level 5 £9.50 £13.19
Level 6 £10.40 £14.44
Level 7 £10.40 £14.44

 Sector reaction

The National Day Nurseries Association welcomed the plans and the move to streamline childcare support into one online account, which it has long called for, but also stressed that the funded needed to be right.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘It is really positive to see the Labour Party engaging with the challenges of delivering high quality, affordable childcare - placing the child’s learning and wellbeing at the centre of its approach.

‘Jeremy Corbyn has recognised what many in the sector have been saying about the current system, that it is not free for either parents or providers.

‘NDNA welcomes the plans to adopt our recommendation for a Childcare Passport which would streamline all childcare support into one online account for each child. This would limit the complex administrative burden for parents and providers.’

‘While many nurseries would welcome this level of investment and proposed hourly funding rate, the sector is largely made up of private, voluntary or independent nurseries. These tailor their business model to satisfy local, parental demand. The funding must keep up with rising costs of delivery that increase year on year.

‘The correct level of funding for all these providers must be there from day one for this ambitious scheme to work. If Labour doesn’t get this right then they risks more nurseries folding under the cost pressures of such a large scale plan which will mean parents being unable to access the offer.’

The NDNA also welcomed Labour’s plans for a graduate-led workforce and for all staff to be qualified to or working towards Level 3.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, welcomed the plans in theory, but would need to see detailed costings to ensure they were sustainable.

'With early years providers having been overworked and underpaid for far too long, a plan to not just encourage but also financially support the development of a graduate-led workforce by delivering improved wages and a new national early years payscale is very positive in principle,' he said.
 
'That said, put together, Labour’s ambitious proposals – extending the so-called free entitlement and introducing subsidised care for all with seemingly no upper earning limit on eligibility, increasing funding rates to £7.35 per hour, and overhauling the childcare payment system – would be, to put mildly, incredibly costly. As such, as a sector that has all too often been on the end of improperly costed and inadequately funded pledges, many childcare providers will be understandably sceptical as to how all these proposals can collectively be delivered as outlined, even over an extended period of time.

'The direction of these proposals is certainly the right one – additional support for parents, a greater emphasis on supporting and valuing the early years workforce, and a focus on raising and maintaining quality across the sector. But, as always, the devil in the in the detail and we would need to see a lot more detail on how these proposals have been individually costed to feel reassured that this plan is indeed sustainable – or even possible – in the long term.'

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