The only trouble with the government’s national child care
strategy, when it was published last month, was the confusion that
followed over its target audience.(1)
The emphasis of the 10-year strategy appears to be on choice,
availability and flexibility for parents, who, by being able to
access good quality child care, will become better placed to work
or study. The intention seems to be that, almost by default, this
provision will translate into a happier, more productive time for
But parents and children are not the only ones who will benefit
from the government’s plans. The Department for Education and
Skills has high hopes of developing a workforce that delivers
world-class child care.
“We want to see more of the workforce trained to professional
level, we want to have a single qualifications framework and we
want to create opportunities for existing workers to improve their
skills,” says a spokesperson for the DfES workforce unit.
At present, the people who care for children are among the lowest
paid in the workforce. Earlier this year the charity Daycare Trust
published a report which found that average gross annual pay for
child care workers is £7,831.(2) Day care and playgroup
workers earn between £4.80 and £5.30 an hour, their
supervisors between £5.50 and £6, and childminders an
average £2.10 a child an hour.
Yet the strategy states that child care workers should have the
same status in society as teachers, with equivalent pay and career
structures. However, at the moment, financially, the roles are
poles apart – primary school teachers earn on average £13.76
an hour, with an average annual gross salary of £22,662.
Stephen Burke, director of the Daycare Trust, says talking about
the child care workforce as a profession is in itself important
progress. But he points out that, as the need for more training and
qualifications comes into play, pay will have to increase.
“The Treasury et al recognise that improving the workforce is the
single biggest factor that determines the quality. They need to
invest in training and qualifications,” he says.
From 2006, £125m is to be allocated to a fund to support
implementing the recommendations from a joint Department for
Education and Skills and Treasury task force on how to raise the
quality and sustainability of affordable child care.
Burke says: “One of the issues is: how do you make the transition
from the current workforce to a new workforce? That will take time.
We have set a 15-year timeline, and we recognise that it’s not
going to happen overnight if you need to bring the current
workforce with you. Nursing provides a good example, where it has
moved towards a degree-led provision and we are seeing an increase
in resources paid to it.”
Currently, nursery workers are not required to hold any
qualifications to start work in a nursery, although the employer
must ensure that half of the staff hold a qualification at NVQ
Level 2 or 3. By contrast, teaching is a graduate profession and
primary and nursery teachers must hold at least a Level 3 or
Changing the child care workforce, so that more staff are educated
to degree level and all full day care settings are led by
graduate-qualified early years professionals, will take time and
resources. It is a move that has been welcomed by the Association
of Directors of Social Services’ human resources committee.
Co-chair Simon Hart says: “We welcome the wider commitment to raise
qualification levels for child care staff, and particularly
expectations for the lead officer to have a degree.”
But he is concerned where the staff will be found to fill the posts
opening up in child care provision. “Social care staff have already
shown great adaptability in responding to change. However, there
remain issues in attracting more people to the care services and
professions,” he says.
Bill McKitterick, Hart’s counterpart on the Association of
Directors of Social Services human resources committee, echoes
He says: “It’s vital that this new strategy doesn’t inadvertently
disrupt the constructive work being done on recruiting to existing
children’s services, notably the residential child care and child
care field social work. Where do we get the people from? How do we
make sure they’re skilled enough, and how do we make sure there are
sufficient resources to underpin this very ambitious
But gaining qualifications need not be a lengthy process. “A lot is
possible using the current NVQ framework and building on the skills
that have been developed already in places such as Sure Start and
children’s centres,” says McKitterick.
Part of the aim of the new framework is to let the workforce move
between the different areas of child care. This will help to
develop a common core of skills, and allow workers to gain a
greater understanding of each other’s roles and expertise.
Increasing the diversity of those employed in child care is another
important issue highlighted by the strategy. Child care workers are
mostly female (86-98 per cent) and nearly all come from a white
background (96-98 per cent). Most are young – about one-third of
those working in day nurseries are aged under 24 compared with 5
per cent of primary and nursery teachers. The strategy calls for
promotion of diversity in the workforce, with a particular need to
increase the proportion who are men and who are from ethnic
Child care workers will be given more clarity over their position
once the forthcoming children’s services pay and workforce strategy
has been published.
For the time being, at least, the government seems committed to
improving the status of the workforce. Fingers crossed that this
initial enthusiasm is enough to keep the need for quality child
care high on the agenda.
(1) Various government departments, Choice for Parents, the Best
Start for Children: a 10-Year Strategy for Childcare, HM Treasury,
DfES, DTI, DWP, 2004
(2) C Cameron, Building an Integrated Workforce for a Long-Term
vision of Universal Early Education and Care, Thomas Coram Research
Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2004
Main Points of the Strategy
- Goal of 12 months’ paid maternity leave by the end of the next
- Legislation to give mothers the right to transfer some of this
paid leave to the child’s father.
- Access to integrated services through children’s centres –
3,500 to be in place by 2010.
- New duty on local authorities to ensure enough child care
- Goal of 20 hours a week of free child care for 38 weeks for
three and four year olds.
- Out-of-school child care places for all children aged three to
14 between 8am and 6pm by 2010.
- Radical reform of the workforce – day care settings to be
- Reform of the regulation and inspection regime.
- Increase in the limits of the child care element of the
working tax credit from April 2005.
- Increase in the maximum proportion of costs that can be
claimed from 70 per cent to 80 per cent from April 2006.