To the point - No easy way to quality

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Quality in childcare matters. High-quality provision imp- roves child development, school readiness and longer-term outcomes for children, from earning potential to life expectancy. Low-quality childcare can minimise the benefits, or even result in long-lasting negative effects, on development.


Striving for quality sounds like a no-brainer, but working out what quality really means, and how to cultivate it, can be more difficult.

One way of measuring quality is to look at child-to-staff ratios. Liz Truss's Affordable Quality report (in practice much more focused on the affordable than the quality) advocates increasing child-to-adult ratios in child care. As well as lowering costs, she suggest this could allow childcare worker salaries to rise, attracting those with higher qualifications in childcare, and therefore improving the quality of the care. While higher salaries could certainly play a part in raising the qualifications of the workforce, low ratios need to be protected. They are not only important for child outcomes in themselves, they also allow for further improvement and development of caregivers, giving more time for session planning, reflection, self-development and management.

Another way of looking at raising quality is to encourage the proportion and level of qualifications in the workforce. Taking this approach is slightly more contentious. OECD studies, the Nutbrown review, and more recently the Sutton Trust report on social mobility, stress the relationship between the qualification level of the workforce and outcomes for children. However, parents seem not to prioritise formal qualifications of institutions, ranking the pastoral aspects of childcare more highly: creating a warm, caring environment with lots of time for interaction and play.

The truth is that high-quality childcare that can have a transformative impact on life chances can't exist without both an educated and qualified workforce and a caring, friendly environment. Rather than care or education, we need to develop a workforce with an excellent understanding of child development and the ability and experience to nurture children.

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