The National Day Nurseries Association has launched a blueprint for early years, with 10 recommendations for improving the sector, including a stipulation to use the term early education and care rather than childcare as the Government publishes its response to a committee report on early years.
The National Day Nurseries Association has launched its Blueprint for Early Education and Care* with a call for a national commission into the future of early education and care.
The NDNA also wants to see the term ‘early education and care’ used rather than ‘childcare’, saying early years should be more on a par with teaching and that early years is about much more than babysitting. It has also called for a system of universal, fully funded early education and care provision that supports all children, families and working parents.
The 10 recommendations include an independent annual review into the cost of delivering high quality early education and care and the removal of business rates from all early education and care settings.
The document which will be shaped by NDNA’s members into a manifesto for early education and care ahead of the next General Election. It was developed as the result of a series of roundtables with experts and representatives from relevant organisations over the summer.
Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “Successive governments have tinkered with the existing policy, adding more and more funded hours as bolt-ons rather than returning to the drawing board to see how they would work in practice. In doing so, they have exacerbated existing problems which has led to many nurseries and childminders being forced to close their doors.
“Funding for so-called free places has always lagged behind any cost increases that businesses have had to contend with, especially in the last few years.
“The sensible approach would be for policy-makers to consider what they want to achieve for children and families and then work out the most effective way to invest to get those results. Investment in a child’s first five years is the best way to support them to fulfil their potential and saves many millions of pounds for society in later life.”
Calling for the status of early years professionals to be raised to that of school teachers, she said that society needs to see them as “much more than babysitters”.
Other recommendations include the revision of early education and care qualifications to ensure that these adequately address the specific needs of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities; the introduction of neurodevelopment to the National Curriculum; and the development of a regulatory system for the early education and care sector that is proportionate, effective and fit for purpose.
Meanwhile, the Government has published its reply to the Education Select Committee’s earlier report into childcare and the early years. Much of it is a reiteration of already announced plans for the expansion of ‘free’ childcare which have caused concern in the sector given underfunding of ‘free’ childcare up until now. The report covers everything from early years professional development to special needs education and funding.
On specific requests for nurseries to be exempted from business rates, the report says that the “Government currently has no plans to make changes to the business rates support provided to early years businesses or the VAT exemption which nurseries currently enjoy”.
It also has not plans to change the eligibility criteria for parents claiming subsidised childcare to simplify it or to extend it to parents in training or education and it says that changing the terminology of ‘free’ childcare to recognise that many parents are having to pay for some elements of nursery care would require changes to primary legislation. In response to a call for a fundamental review of tax-free childcare, the report says the Government monitors tax free childcare and has promoted it. Another key plank of the report is its concerns about the changes to early years ratios. It calls for these to be reversed if the quality of education suffers as a result. The report says the Government will monitor the impact of ratio changes.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, expressed dismay at the response, saying: “It is extremely disheartening that the government has completely wasted an opportunity to put in place meaningful change to address the raft of challenges facing the sector and families alike”.
He said: “What the sector needed in response was for the government to show it had listened – and crucially, acted – on the findings. What we got, however, was a disappointing reiteration of recent policy announcements, combined with a complete refusal to budge on a number of key changes that would make a difference for the early years sector, such as ratios, funding and business rates relief. The government says it recognises the importance of early education. Today’s response shows that it has once again failed to match this rhetoric with any meaningful action.”
Tanuku echoed these sentiments, calling the response “a missed opportunity to fix some of the major challenges in the sector” and the workforce strategy outlined “too little too late”.
She stated: “Our research shows that nursery closures are up 50% on last year so it’s clear that funding is not sustainable for many providers. This is really worrying when we know that closures are more likely in areas of deprivation.
“By rejecting recommendations to review Business Rates and VAT in early years the Government is reinforcing the divide between our sector and school-aged education. When the Government will be the biggest purchaser of early education and childcare places – 80% of them from April – they must acknowledge that these additional costs create extra burdens for providers. Changes to the valuation policies for nurseries is actually sending business rates bills skyrocketing which the Government is refusing to recognise.”
She added: “The disappointing response to the Committee’s report shows why we need an ambitious vision for the future of early education and care as set out in our Blueprint. That calls for a comprehensive workforce strategy, annual funding reviews to keep pace with rising costs and putting children at the heart of this policy area so we can continue to focus on giving them the best possible start in life.”
*To download the Blueprint for Early Education and Care go to www.ndna.org.uk/blueprint