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Early Education and Childcare

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2013

Today I am publishing a report “More great childcare” which sets out this Government’s plans for improving quality in early education and child care. The report also incorporates the Government response to Professor Cathy Nutbrown’s report—“Foundations for Quality”—on qualifications for the early education and child care work force.

Over the next 10 years we want to substantially increase the supply of high quality, affordable and available child care. The evidence is clear that a good start in these early years can have a positive effect on children’s development, preparing them for school and later life. This is important for individual children and families. It is also important for our wider society and economy.

The proposals set out in “More great childcare” will help providers to thrive, by delivering more for the investment currently made by the Government and parents. This will be achieved through:

Raising the status and quality of the work force;

Freeing high-quality providers to offer more places;

Improving the regulatory regime;

Giving more choice to parents.

This Government want to increase the supply of high quality, affordable child care and early education. We want to see providers striving to raise the quality of provision of early education and child care for babies and young children, an inspection regime that responds with support and constructive challenge, and a clearer, simpler regulatory structure where more money reaches the front line.

The evidence tells us very clearly how important it is for successful outcomes for children that staff are well qualified. As Professor Nutbrown acknowledged, there has been recent progress in developing a more professional work force, and raising quality for children.

But we believe we need to go further, with reform needed to enable early years providers to break out of the low-skills, low-pay, low-status cycle in which the sector has been stuck for too long. Our report, therefore, specifically proposes:

Raising the status and quality of the work force

Graduate level early years teachers, specialised in early childhood development and who will work with our youngest children;

Examining how to attract bright graduates into early years teaching;

A programme of early years educators qualified to level 3, with good GCSEs in English and Maths, trained in child development and with strong practical experience.

Incentives for the first early years educators to work with providers offering early education for two-year-olds from low-income families.

Freeing high-quality providers to offer more places

Changes to rigid rules on staffing to give greater freedom for professionals to tailor group care to children’s needs, with more choice for parents.

Improving the regulatory regime

Reinforcing the emphasis on provider responsibility for quality, with skills and knowledge of staff at the forefront;

Increased involvement of HM Inspectors to further improve the quality of early years inspections;

Targeting inspections on providers most in need of improvement;

Encouraging rapid improvement by enabling providers to request a paid-for re-inspection;

Ensuring Ofsted is the sole arbiter of quality in the early years by removing any duplication of quality assessment by local authorities.

Giving more choice to parents

Increasing choice and diversity for parents, and encouraging new providers into the market;

Developing new childminder agencies to offer training, support and regular quality assurance of childminders;

Reducing obstacles to schools providing care for younger children, down the age range and able to open nurseries on site;

Supporting good providers to expand and respond to parental demand with clearer national standards and expectations and greater funding transparency.

Two of our specific proposals—allowing paid-for re-inspection and introducing childminder agencies—will require a change to primary legislation and we will bring forward measures to do this as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Our report further supports the commitment that this Government have made to ensuring that this country is the most family friendly in Europe. It supports what we have already done to increase early education for all three and four-year-olds to 15 hours per week, and the introduction of the two-year-old programme for children of lower-income families from September 2013. It also supports the revised early years foundation stage statutory framework, introduced from September 2012, and our longer-term ambitions around an integrated review.

We will, subject to consultation, bring forward plans to amend specific elements of the early years foundation stage statutory framework and these proposals will be subject to parliamentary approval in the normal way.

We are, alongside “More great childcare”, today launching a public consultation on how staff:child ratios might be framed in the early years foundation stage statutory framework from September 2013. We will also shortly launch further consultations on: the requirements that qualifications for those working in sector should fulfil; and changes to the welfare requirements set out in the EYFS.

We are clear that we want to give parents more choice of early education. Parents should be able to decide whether home-based care, nursery care, or a combination of the two is best for their child.

Our reforms will benefit both society and the economy by delivering high-quality education in the early years at the same time as helping parents back to work. This will complement the Government’s wider commitments: reforming education, so that we produce bright graduates and skilled school leavers; and reforming welfare, so that it always pays to work.

We will place copies of our report in the House Libraries.