Brexit was obviously a dominant theme at last week’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool, but the package of proposals on childcare funding, hours and workforce announced in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech were also a major talking point.
An eye-catching – and costly at about £5bn extra a year – set of measures includes offering 30 free hours to all two-, three- and four-year-olds, a hefty hike in hourly funding for the free entitlement to £7.35, a national pay scale for early years staff, a move to a graduate-led workforce, and a shift to a minimum Level 3 qualification (see our story on pages 10-11).
There are of course many questions raised by this policy blitz, and no doubt much more detail to be thrashed out.
There is no mention of the under-twos and what support those parents would receive, although Labour has previously said that it would abolish Tax-Free Childcare, unless the subsidised hours would apply to all those families as well. There is no word on the role of local authorities, which has been so eroded in the past few years. And nothing on CPD as a vital element of workforce quality and progression.
There are calculations to be done about how far increased pay rates would cancel out higher hourly funding rates.
However, there is a very comprehensive set of plans which does add up to a radical overhaul and expansion of our childcare services. Many thorny issues have been broached.
Despite a cautious welcome from sector organisations, cynical comments are already appearing from providers who, having suffered from long-term underfunding and meddling, no longer believe that things will change and that the money for such wholesale change will be forthcoming.
If Labour gets into government, it must prove it can deliver.