From education to employment

Childcare must not be left to chance

Richard Dorrance is chief executive of the the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE)

There are deep contradictions emerging over the future of child care provision as central and local government spending cuts adversely affect the provision of grants for training new child care professionals while demand from parents for places rises inexorably.

Coupled with this, the number of school leavers pinning their hopes on careers in childcare is as high as at any time since 1945 and the post-War boom in nursery places. Indeed, a huge increase in trained staff is needed if the Coalition Government is to meet its pledge, made last month by the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to provide additional places for 150,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds by September 2013, rising to 260,000 the following year.

When he made the announcement, Clegg told us: “We’re revolutionising the early start our children get in life – there will be more free childcare, it will be higher quality, and it will be more flexible for parents.” In the same week, he shared a platform with Opposition Leader Ed Miliband addressing a Sutton Trust conference on opportunities for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. Both Clegg and Miliband stressed the need to “celebrate” the success of vocational qualifications and the use of apprenticeships to raise the skills levels and the employability of young people.

Three questions arise in relation to provision of childcare: first, what do we mean by quality training? Second, is it necessary? And third, who will fund it? The first question should be easy to answer. The post-War boom saw the birth of the NNEB certificate, driven forward by further education colleges, that still stands as the quality hallmark for many despite the growth of alternatives. The imminent report from Professor Cathy Nutbrown on the future of child care qualifications will, we hope, take the lessons from the NNEB and apply them to raise the quality of the newer qualifications developed by the Children’s Workforce Development Council. The Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE) has been the major provider of high quality qualifications in the children’s sector for 67 years ever since it wrote the first NNEB qualification in 1945. It is committed to providing quality and rigorously monitors the standards of all training providers who offer its qualifications.

The second question of whether training is necessary raises several issues. The recent report for the think tank Centreforum, by Elizabeth Truss (MP for South West Norfolk), suggested deregulation of childcare, a complete overhaul of provision to make it more affordable, cuts in “excessive” red tape and measures to reverse spiralling costs. With part-time childcare now costing on average over £100 a week, there is pressure on Government to cut costs by removing regulation. However, children deserve the best. Taking away the requirement that child care professionals should be trained and qualified to undertake a highly important role would take the quality out of child care – and after all children have only one chance. The argument that any mother has the skills to look after another family’s children devalues the competency and knowledge required to work in the child care profession. Indeed the current requirements should be strengthened so that all child care professionals are required to have a relevant level 2 or 3 child care qualification and qualifications in English and in numeracy before they can work with children.

Qualifications resulting from rigorously inspected courses are important as a badge of quality. We have seen excellent initiatives in child care at all levels over the years and the nationally-recognised qualifications have been an assurance to parents and employers. These qualifications also provide a passport for the trainee to a successful career.

On the question of who pays for the training, there has to be a balance of contributions from the individual, employers and State. For the younger career entrant, the government must ensure adequate resources to meet the full cost of the course. However, the growth envisaged by Clegg will call for adult retraining and second career routes. These days neither employers nor Government can afford to meet all the costs of qualifications and so individuals will have to look more to their own resources and maybe seek help under the new FE loans scheme.

Getting this balance right, to ensure that training providers have the necessary resources to deliver a quality programme, is essential and I would argue that this calls for a more not less rigorous qualifications regime when Professor Nutbrown makes her recommendations. What we do not need are the sort of reforms envisaged by Truss, an approach adopted in 2005 in the Netherlands, and abandoned following evidence that it led to lower quality childcare and failed to increase the number of high quality child carers in the profession.

If Nick Clegg’s vision of more high-quality free childcare for the most disadvantaged is to be realised, we need to eliminate the contradictions with a well-funded reinvigoration of a well-qualified childcare profession.

Richard Dorrance is chief executive of the the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE)

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