Last year saw the childcare sector overcome some major challenges, and 2014 could well be a decisive year for the sector’s progress.
While we’re seeing increasing focus on attracting new people into the profession and safeguarding the sustainability of childcare, conflicting Government measures are also threatening to undermine expansion and improvement.
Of particular concern is the funding of the free entitlement; how Ofsted can be relied upon to judge if a provider requires improvement; and, with less support from local authorities, how childcare professionals will get the support they need to improve and take on a myriad of new responsibilities coming their way. In particular, we are concerned about the new Special Educational Needs (SEN) legislation currently being debated in parliament alongside childminder agencies, changes to local authority sufficiency duties and more.
The focus on attracting the next generation of childcare professionals into the profession is positive. However, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) wants an equal focus on how existing childminders, nannies and nursery workers receive support to further build their expertise and improve the quality of care they provide to children and families.
Childminder agencies are one area where Government reform is setting out how it plans to support providers in the future, but there remains widespread concern that agencies may neither drive up quality nor reduce costs for parents. Most childminders PACEY hears from don’t want to join an agency and want to know what the alternative might be.
Agencies will be voluntary, available to childminders who choose to pay a fee to use their services. However, there remains a concern among many childminders that, with local authorities reducing the support they offer, the agency may end up being the only choice of local help available to them.
The pilot phase for agencies is now in full swing, and agencies are due to become law in September 2014. With this in mind, PACEY is focused on developing its alternative to an agency, to ensure childminders across England do have a choice. We remain opposed to agencies for all the reasons we have stated many times before but recognise that – whether we like it or not – agencies already exist in pilot form, some childminders may join them and some families may use their services.
PACEY is committed to high standards of care and learning, so we must also ensure the regulation and inspection framework Government is setting for agencies demands they deliver high standards of care to children and support to childminders. So we will be using the formal consultation process to set out what we believe this framework should include and supporting our childminder members to contribute their views if they wish.
We remain clear we will not support any organisation to develop its agency model. Our focus is on ensuring high standards are expected for agencies and that childminders who do not want to join an agency have an alternative choice.
Aside from agencies, there is little focus on how all childcare professionals are supported to continuously improve, While the drive to recruit better qualified people into the profession and to encourage more graduate leaders is to be commended, we feel Government needs a clear vision for the 450,000 individuals already in the profession, encouraging them to regularly refresh their skills and knowledge, to continuously improve.
There needs to be an equal balance between supporting existing professionals and attracting new entrants to the sector. All practitioners need to increase their skills, if only to comply with new requirements, keep up to date with new knowledge and evidence in our rapidly changing modern sector.
Just one example is the Government’s plan that children with a special needs statement or new education, health and care plan will be eligible, from this September, for 15 hours of free funded high-quality childcare from the age of two. This goal has to be backed up with effective training and support for all existing practitioners – continuous professional development (CPD) support – so they are best able to offer the high quality care children with SEN deserve.
In turn, PACEY is continuing its work in ensuring that effective childcare isn’t compromised by what we see as the Government’s formalisation of early years care. We’re continuing to encourage a holistic approach to early years development through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). We are working to ensure there is an equal focus on the social and emotional aspects of children’s development and wellbeing – not just their educational achievements. It is only through this broader approach that we can ensure that childcare is effective in helping to give children the best start for life, not just for school.
PACEY wants to make sure that the experience of childcare professionals is used constructively to drive up standards, acting as a platform for quality improvement. We have just closed our consultation with childcare professionals – both members and non members of PACEY – to identify their priority areas for their own professional development. Feedback will help us shape the CPD pathways that will support members to progress up our Professional Standards, to bring improvements to our training materials and the wider support we offer.
2014 will require childcare professionals to rise to new challenges. I have every confidence practitioners will meet those challenges. Our job at PACEY is to ensure you receive the training and support you need to do so as well as the recognition you deserve.