The Government is encouraging schools to apply for funding from a ‘School Nurseries Capital Fund’, with the aim of increasing the number of places in maintained nurseries, the initiative is intended to boost social mobility for the most disadvantaged children. School nurseries are seen as the pinnacle of early years education – but are times a-changing?
Private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings have long since been the poor relation to maintained school nurseries. However, this sector has evolved over recent years and perhaps the perceived gap in quality between the two has narrowed considerably. Gone are the days of PVI settings being staffed by unqualified mothers who made their way into the sector after having their own children. In recent times, there has been a drive to improve the qualifications of those working in PVIs, increasing the number of graduates and Early Years Teachers (EYTs) and therefore impacting on the outcomes for children.
Rigorous Ofsted inspections and a drive for PVIs to succeed, has seen a rise in the number of good and outstanding providers. With 73 per cent of PVIs rated as good and 22 per cent as outstanding, a significant number of children are accessing high quality early years care and education in this sector. It could be said that these settings have been the flagship for promoting the learning and development of disadvantaged two-year olds, impacting on social mobility. As of January, 82 per cent of funded two-year-olds attended a PVI setting, benefitting from low staff: child ratios which enable the child to receive the attention, support and nurturing they often need.
So, with the drive to professionalise the PVI sector, one must question where the increase in funding is for these valuable settings. Understandably, there is uncertainty for maintained nurseries due to the cut in funding next year. However, times have also been difficult for PVIs. With the ever-increasing minimum wage and living wage, plus pensions and rise in general running costs such as rent, food and resources, the sector is also struggling to make ends meet. Throw in the slow to increase funding rates for two-, three- and four-year-olds, plus the 30 hours initiative, and it’s obvious that PVIs have certainly had to be creative with their budgets in order to survive.
As a manager, Early Years Teacher (EYT) and MA student, employed in a PVI setting, it saddens me that we are again seen as the second-class citizens when it comes to early years care and education. I see the wonderful work which goes on day-to-day, providing quality play and learning experiences enabling children to thrive.
There’s no denying that maintained nurseries also provide high-quality care – this is obvious in the statistics. However, it is the PVI sector which has seen the biggest improvement over the years, in qualifications, Ofsted ratings and drive to improve their provision. With a similar investment in funding to that offered to maintained nurseries, the entire sector, PVI or otherwise could offer the most fantastic start for children.
It’s time the sector as a whole is seen as one, with opportunities for all settings to grow and develop rather than preference given to one provider. We need support to remain sustainable, just as maintained nurseries do. Those employed in PVIs owe it to the children in their care to continue to remain dedicated, passionate and driven in improving life chances for all children, regardless of being seemingly undervalued by the Government. We are used to shining in times of adversity, it’s one of the things we do best!