From education to employment

Government decision to retain teacher qualification regulations has profound implication for the training of childcare staff

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

The latest decision of FE and Skills Minister John Hayes to drop his plan to suspend regulations governing teaching qualifications is to be applauded because it allows all employers, managers and staff in the sector the opportunity to reappraise the professional needs of colleges and shape their own destinies.

During formal consultations on proposals to revoke the 2007 regulations, he found support for mandatory teacher training requirements overwhelming. Therefore, he said: “I have noted in particular the concerns for the reputation of the sector if government regulations requiring minimum qualifications are removed at this time.”

I always had concerns about his plans, however well intentioned. Adults as much as children deserve tutors who are trained in how to teach. This is even more important when loans are introduced. Learners will be using their own money to fund their training and they will expect outstanding teaching and high achievement rates. A learner who has paid thousands of pounds for their qualification and who has spent two years studying for it, will not be happy if they fail.

This has profound implications for staff and employers in my own area – childcare training. It is a service currently in the throes of so many reviews that it makes me giddy keeping track of them. We have had the Nutbrown review calling for a minimum level 3 qualification for entry to the profession. The Truss report for the think tank CentreForum calls for deregulation, and cost-cutting. Meanwhile, David Cameron has launched the National Childcare Commission to identify ways to cut costs and bureaucracy and reshape training. Also, the Richard Review of apprenticeships, running until September 7, will make further judgments on the future of our apprenticeships.

It is easy to forget that childcare requires professional skills just as much as trainers and teachers in the FE sector. Like the learners in FE, early years children require the best possible education and support. At its best early years childcare offers learning through play from the earliest years and demands teaching skills to nurture social, language and communication skills and give every child the best possible start in life. Of course, the FE college is where many childcare workers are launched on their careers, and they need the best-trained teachers with up-to-date professional experience of the workplace.

Moreover, courses leading to qualifications from the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE) imbue fine teaching skills in these people at every stage. The teaching skills, quality and standards in childcare need just as much protection as those of college lecturers and tutors.

This is at the heart of the submission we are putting to the National Commission and underpinned our evidence to Professor Nutbrown. Everyone at CACHE wants “affordable, accessible, high quality childcare for all” but there are contradictions between these demands at the time of economic crisis and recovery. As I said in an earlier FE News column, raising the entry bar to Level 3 as Nutbrown recommends may raise quality but it will hit affordability. Increase the permissible child-adult ratios and you may cut costs, but you may also undermine quality and imperil safety.

We want higher quality childcare. We are proud of our level 3 Diploma because it includes the licence to practise and the young people emerging from two years training have the requisite initial teaching skills to work in the sector. It also includes additional child development so learners understand why best practice is best practice.

This is an investment, not a cost, and its pay-off is immediate. The government is anxious to get more people into employment, with fewer on the dole, so it’s important these people have access to good childcare. They need to feel confident that there is a secure and happy learning environment that is to be valued.

The Coalition Government has pledged £380m a year to supply free childcare places in England for an additional 260,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds by 2014. The demand for more trained carers will rise by over 50,000, which we are confident the colleges and other training providers can and will provide.

Regulation was necessary in the 1980s to raise the quality of childcare, and it succeeded. There is a big risk that if you take regulations away, childcare will revert to what it was before the Children Act when the view was that anyone can do it and that education only takes place in schools.

Also, the risk of deregulation is that the volume of good quality childcare will fall because of the drive to reduce costs. The priority of the Commission, in Cameron’s words, is “to reduce the cost of childcare for parents and make sure they have affordable, high quality places.” All well and good but “quality” has yet to be defined.

With average part-time childcare costs running at £5,000 a year for those who pay, I can understand the desire to reduce costs, but if we do, we are creating a problem for the next generation. Good quality childcare reduces the amount of health and social care required when the children become adults.

We welcome the various reviews as a valuable opportunity to take stock, even if the exercise does leave us feeling giddy. But let’s take a leaf out of John Hayes’ book and retain the best of the childcare training requirements for all.

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


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