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Extra funding for nursery schools should not divide an early years sector united by inadequate pay, status and Government vision


Michael Pettavel

The recent announcement from Nadhim Zahawi regarding a brief extension to the supplementary funding for nursery schools has been controversial. There are, however, a couple of anomalies that need to be brought into the light.

It puzzles me that the majority of the education system in Britain is in the hands of the state, whereas nursery education is the opposite, being predominantly based in the private and voluntary sector.

Nursery schools have been part of the legacy of nursery education and child welfare in Britain – dating back to Margaret MacMillan and Froebel. I fully accept that nursery schools are and have been better funded than the rest of the sector, but I would counsel caution in focusing too heavily on a direct comparison and falling into a trap others have set.

The place nursery schools occupy in the sector still holds value. The danger is that because everyone is under-funded, we turn on each other rather than addressing the main issue. The funding rates for early years are simply not enough; nothing will change that apart from a full review, which apparently we’ve just had.

Value and status are huge issues for the type of work we do. I know that operational staff in the private sector are often paid less than those in the maintained sector, and this makes me think – are we looking at this the wrong way?

If a minimum national wage were applied to qualified nursery workers (as for nurses and teachers), wouldn’t this be a way to improve the ‘status’ of the sector and ensure that funding had to be higher? Strangely, the opposite happens in areas such as private medicine, education and law – the state sector is paid less, with fewer benefits. How strange then that in early years the maintained sector pays the most.

It is not in the Government’s interest for wages to be based on worth; the obsession with outsourcing contracts allows the state to apply a business model which in many ways is a direct contradiction to the principles and pedagogy of the early years. The responsibility held by a qualified member of staff is surely worth more than the minimum wage.

Without some degree of vision, education and childcare are quickly becoming unaffordable to families, while the pressure on nurseries (of whatever type) to balance the books keeps wages unacceptably low.

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