Last month I was pleased to launch the Welsh Government's ambitious, long-term vision for the early years, childcare and play workforce in Wales.
Our draft ten-year plan for the early years, childcare and play workforce in Wales seeks to address the workforce development needs of all types of registered early years, childcare and play providers, in both the maintained and non-maintained sectors.
We're placing enormous emphasis on it because the ages of nought to seven are such a crucial time in every child's development. There is compelling evidence, such as the Effective Pre-School Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) longitudinal study and recent research from the Sutton Trust, which demonstrates that high-quality early education and childcare make a huge difference to children's outcomes, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the quality of this provision is a vital factor and the workforce is central to improving the quality of early years care.
I'm sure I don't need to remind readers of Nursery World that working in childcare is about so much more than just supervising children: while practitioners may work with children and families in a way that seems effortless, in order to do this well they need to be trained professionals with a high level of skill. It's important, therefore, that practitioners receive the right level of support, are highly motivated and proficient - and also feel that they are valued. We're determined to raise the status of careers in early years, childcare and play to a level which better reflects the essential role these practitioners perform in supporting children's development.
Our vision is clear and far-reaching. We want early years, childcare and play to be a career of choice, for potential entrants to feel properly informed about the range of opportunities available to them within the sector and in the wider children's workforce. We want to attract entrants with the appropriate skills, knowledge and behaviours to provide high-quality childcare, education and play opportunities for children. We will look to encourage more graduates to join this workforce, and are proposing to develop a progression route through the sector to Level 6, which is degree-level equivalent.
We need to ensure training and qualifications are accessible and offer the best possible preparation. They should enable early years practitioners to understand how children learn and develop and to structure activities, time and environments so that they support children to develop to their full potential. We are consulting on whether a relevant Level 3 qualification should be the accepted minimum standard for all practitioners responsible for delivering early education and childcare.
We want to support the existing workforce to gain the skills they need to progress in their careers and access more employment opportunities. In return, we expect those working in early years, childcare and play to be proactive learners in their own right and to be able to demonstrate that they have been undertaking a programme of learning.
To encourage greater collaboration between the maintained and non-maintained sectors, we are proposing to trial early years learning hubs. These hubs would be recognised as schools and settings of effective and innovative practice and would act as a local centre for learning and development, offer opportunities for coaching and mentoring, high-quality placements, and serve as a network for sharing good practice and driving improvement.
We also remain committed to developing a bilingual workforce, allowing parents/carers to access childcare in either English or Welsh. To achieve this, we propose to encourage those who wish to improve their skills in the Welsh language and offer training to increase the confidence of workers in English-medium settings in using basic Welsh in their day-to-day routine.
We recognise the impact of these proposed changes and the time they will take to implement. It is for this reason that we have chosen to set out our expectations in the context of a cross-government, long-term plan and are consulting on our approach over the coming months. We welcome views and comments from the sector on our proposals ahead of publishing a final version of the plan in April 2015. While our vision for the early years, childcare and play workforce is ambitious, we feel it is right to expect the best possible education and childcare opportunities for children in Wales.