Voice General Secretary Deborah Lawson spoke at the Westminster Education Forum “The future for Childcare and Early Years provision – cost, standards, supply and new providers” on 14 July 2015.
Supply of childcare: resources, new providers and implementing changes to provision
Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice the union
“Thank you, good morning.
“First of all a little bit about Voice, because yes we are a trade union and we are a union for education professionals, but our membership base covers the whole spectrum, nursery to tertiary, we have growing numbers of members in the early years and childcare sector, and particularly in the private, voluntary and independent sector and early years day-care generally. So we therefore know the concerns of our members and the challenges facing early years.
“Voice supports the expansion and no one can actually deny the rationale for it and the benefit to children we’ve heard about that several times already this morning. The task, though, given the size and make up of the sector, and the market and the complexity, has, we believe, been underestimated leading to an overreliance on the further goodwill of the workforce and PVI providers.
“I agree with the earlier speaker, there’s no silver bullet, especially with the complex and diverse sector that we have, and the number of deliverables, actually, that the early years and childcare is being expected to provide. But I think funding is a major issue for all providers and from a workforce perspective it most certainly is something that the funding, the investment that is actually required for this sector to continue and be sustainable.
“So I’ve deliberately put it in this way as triangle, because to meet the education and care needs of our youngest, and often our most vulnerable children as well as the aspirations of Government, the sector must be well resourced and sustainable. If it is to grow and do so strongly, providers have to have the capacity to grow and to adapt to the market changes, as well as Government and other external influences, including the increased demand that we are all anticipating for the free entitlement when it goes up next year.
“Early years and childcare is provided through a mixed market, a very diverse market, made up of private, voluntary and independent providers as well as State and local authority, and although this provides choice, the market is still diverse and still fragile. Small changes can destabilise local markets which I think we heard from a couple of earlier speakers, without the capacity to be able to respond, it can take a while to recover and will actually lead to smaller providers, less experienced providers closing quite quickly.
“The greatest resource of the sector is, of course, the staff. We are all familiar with the links between the levels of staff qualifications and outcomes for children, I won’t go into that, and the initial academic qualifications of staff, either on entry or exit to their initial training is also important, we’ve had a lot of experience of staff coming in… or people being directed into childcare because of that misconception all those years ago, which still prevails in some areas, that anybody can look after children. But quality costs, it requires investment, the question is who should pay for it, and how?
“Usually the most vulnerable and those in need are the ones who are least able to pay for it, but all children, regardless of their need, should be able to access high quality early years childcare and education, and recruitment and retention is becoming harder. We’re beginning to see from our members that there is confusion sometimes from employers, between the potential that they identify in their staff and the readiness for those staff to take on those additional responsibilities. Staff often take the promotion quite willingly because the opportunities for promotion within the sector are sometimes limited, but they do so without fully understanding the implications or doing so without there being the further training and support in place for them to be able to carry out those functions fully. So there is a need for recruitment and retention if it’s happening within the sector, and within settings, for there to be the capacity to allow people to reach their full potential and to be supported to do so.
“An overview of some facts and figures. The level of qualifications of professional staff is high and I think has contributed greatly to the announcements we heard yesterday from Ofsted around the number of settings, or the increase in the number of settings, who are judged to be good and outstanding, which is excellent, we want to see this. So we can see that qualification levels are high, according to various different sources, there are a fifth of the workforce are at Level 4 or above, 83% are at 3% or above, and the staff turnover is actually increasing, leaving for higher salaries, less responsibilities and better prospects outside of the sector, that’s why people are leaving, and the apprenticeship levels are low as well, and our own surveys, or the initial responses to our surveys are actually showing exactly the same thing as other organisations.
“Survey links are never easy ones, but if you want to go on to that when you get the paperwork. We are currently undertaking a survey of staff in the early years sector to find a little bit more about them, but as I say, the initial outcomes that we are getting are consistent with those coming from other organisations.
“But the current situation where providers are underfunded and have no alternative but to charge high fees for the hours over and above the entitlement can’t continue, not least because such a cross subsidy makes a mockery of this actually being a free entitlement and further investment is needed.