Elizabeth Truss on the government's childcare shake-up
Today, the government is announcing plans to change the way childcare is managed and regulated in the UK. Here, Liz Truss, the minister with responsibility for childcare, sets out the changes - and explains the thinking behind them. Stephen Twigg, Chair of Labour's Childcare Commission, has responded in his own guest blog, over here. And do click here to find out what childcare expert Penelope Leach thinks of the changes.
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding things in life, but it's a job that comes with lots of challenges and worries. One of the biggest is childcare. More of us want to work – whether through choice or out of economic necessity – and we have to trust absolutely the people we hand our children to.
When I went to France I learned that excellent nursery and home-based care is widely available. By contrast, most parents in the UK talk about how they have to "juggle" their work and childcare arrangements.
The government spends as much as the French on childcare, so this is about something else (although next month the government is publishing the report from the commission on childcare about getting better value for money).
Lifelong education is crucial. The widely admired French écoles maternelles are teacher-led and encourage children to read stories and be thoroughly engaged. French crèches for the under 3s have structured groups run by qualified staff.
French nursery workers are paid similarly to primary school teachers, but unlike our comparatively well-paid primary school teachers, nursery staff here earn £6.60 an hour – barely above the minimum wage. Annual earnings of £13,300 are well below £16,000 in France, £20,000 in Denmark, and £22,000 in Sweden.
Professor Cathy Nutbrown, who led an independent review on childcare, is rightly concerned that many childcare professionals do not have a grade C in GCSE maths and English. (This compares very poorly with other European countries.) She has also highlighted the fact that the system is far too complicated, with over 400 childcare qualifications available.
The quality of early years education has an enormous effect on a child – the gulf in mathematical ability that exists between teenagers in England and places like Singapore and Hong Kong is already evident by the time they are five.
So we will introduce graduate-level Early Years Teachers for young children and Early Years Educators with strong practical experience (and GCSE C grades or better in maths and English).
We will scrap the pointless red tape that dissuades schools from having nurseries and childminders onsite and put OFSTED in sole charge of inspections so that everybody – not least parents – understands where accountability lies.
We will also attract more talented people into the profession by making it easier for providers to pay better wages. We are consulting on changing adult-to-child ratios so that there will be a greater focus on staff quality than staff numbers.
Where an Early Years Educator is present, we would allow nursery staff to look after six instead of four two-year-olds. This in line with practice in France, Germany and the Netherlands, all of which have higher qualified workers paid higher salaries. And where there is an experienced worker we would like to give flexibility for four under 1s, rather than three. I want us to give childminders more flexibility on numbers and changeovers too. It doesn't seem very sensible that a childminder can't look after two babies if one of the parents is late.
Here are our proposals set out in our report, More great childcare. I would be very grateful if you would contribute to our consultation, here. And I will be on Mumsnet on 7 February to hear your views and answer questions about our plans to make our childcare truly world-class.
- Find out more about the government's proposed changes
- Tell us what you think on the Talk thread
- See the results of our childcare costs survey
- Get advice and info on our childcare pages