For childcare solutions: think local

What could be the solutions to England’s broken childcare system?

Children at nursery raising their hands

 

The battle for childcare is hotting up as the Budget approaches. More and more people are talking about it being a crucial part of the economic infrastructure, from the CBI to Conservative backbenchers. Whereas once politicians would laugh at campaigners who talked about the problems with childcare – mainly because they didn’t actually live any of them – they now seem to acknowledge that it is an issue, at least a political one in terms of votes. The labour shortage has also focused their minds. The problem is has it focused them in the right way. Do they have the right solutions?

A webinar on Friday hosted by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London went over the usual ground about the crisis facing the sector, something that has been coming for a long time. Bridget Phillipson for Labour spoke about the need for a review of why we are where we are now and how we move forward, looking at what other countries are doing. She is not the first to say that the childcare system in England is broken. She also cautioned against focusing purely on early years – childcare is an issue through children’s lives and wraparound care is also crucial, she said. What is vital is that any wholesale changes to the system are so embedded that they cannot easily be undone, she said, Labour’s commitment to Sure Start centres is a case in point – the aim was to get childcare and parental support to every area, particularly the most disadvantaged, but many centres have been closed in the last years and only recently has the Government announced plans for family hubs, but at a much less ambitious scale.

For Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, local solutions are also vital. She favours much more attention on increasing the rapidly falling numbers of childminders through reimagining childminder agencies and addressing the issue of Ofsted inspections, what she called ‘over inspection by not fit for purpose inspectorate’. She wants to see a ‘wholesale reset’ of childcare with schools extending their hours and the care they offer to younger children by school estates being used as childcare settings. She said falling rolls at schools mean there will be spare capacity and schools are in the heart of their communities. And she called for changes in practice and attitudes to enable dads to play a more equal role at home. On the schools front Phillipson said there is a need to address morale in early years and to create a workforce plan which gives workers more support and training [and more money] and treats them as part of an integrated education system. She said too often early years has been overlooked when it is crucial to children’s later life chances.

As with many issues, the debate was part of a wider one on empowering local areas to address local needs better within an overarching national framework. It’s clear that many areas have suffered more in terms of childcare provision than others and that parents are less likely in some areas to use childcare provision than in others. The reasons for this need to be addressed and local innovation enabled. It’s no good having a plan if it isn’t meeting the needs of large numbers of people. It needs to be adaptable to local situations, including local employment demands. At least now we are talking about this. Whether or not this Government is truly listening or just thinking about quick headlines and internal party politics is another matter.



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