Work In Progress

    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
    children.

    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
    equivalent qualification.

    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
    these concerns.

    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
    strategy?”
    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
    minorities.

    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 

    CHOICE: 

    • Goal of 12 months’ paid maternity leave by the end of the next
      parliament. 
    • 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. 

    AVAILABILITY:

    • New duty on local authorities to ensure enough child care
      places. 
    • 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. 

    QUALITY:

    • Radical reform of the workforce – day care settings to be
      professionally led.
    • Reform of the regulation and inspection regime. 

    AFFORDABILITY: 

    • 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.

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