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as a provider of four Day Nurseries and a representative of the PVI sector in Stockport but first and foremost as an individual who has worked in early years in this borough for over 30 years, a mother of three, who is passionate about ensuring that our children get what they deserve – the best possible start. Since the current Minister for Children came into post some 7 months ago, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the course early years appears to be taking. Comments reported in the press yesterday dealt a catastrophic blow to the sector and threaten to sink the good reputation that has been built over the past decade. Almost ten years ago we established a neighbourhood nursery in Stockport and embarked on a journey to provide affordable, high quality childcare to families in less advantaged areas of Stockport to enable parents to return to work or study. Our priority has always been to focus on the personal, social and emotional development of young children, raising their aspiration, confidence and self-esteem and developing skills of communication, cooperation and cognitive function that we believe will provide them with the vital elements required for life long learning and well-being. We now have four nurseries registered to deliver childcare and the free entitlement to 2, 3 and 4 years olds in each of the four Stockport constituencies. Each of our settings has a priority super-output area that we strive to actively support to improve the outcomes of children and their families. Over the last decade research into brain development and early years practice, like the EPPE study (Sylvia:2004) has endorsed our ethos. More recently the move recommended by Dame Claire Tickell (2011) to prioritise the three prime areas of learning legislated into practice something that we had always promoted. At the beginning of this academic year I felt a real excitement for the future, enthused and empowered as our sector and local authority worked in harmony with politicians who were producing strategies with depth and substance, Frank Field 2010 and Graham Allen 2011, whose principles were being embedded by advocates such as Ian Duncan-Smith and Sarah Teather. How quickly the tide of progression seems to have changed. This week it is alleged that the Minister for Childcare has stated; ‘nurseries are breeding a generation of children with no manners’. [The UK has] ‘chaotic pre-schools that allow children to do what they want all day long, leaving them unable to sit still and listen by the time they get to school’. Such negative remarks by the Minister are inflammatory and ill-informed, she also suggests that providers are not implementing the EYFS as it was intended; ‘there are various myths about practice. I want to point out that these things are not required by Ofsted, but most settings think they are. Firstly, free-flow play between indoors and outdoors is not a requirement and not something Oftsed will be looking for.’ This declaration is totally untrue -only three weeks ago we received a registration inspection from Ofsted, during the visit the inspector made it clear that she expected to see children accessing free-flow play between the indoor/outdoor environment, children should be following their interests in child led not adult initiated activities and that more traditional formal approaches and whole group ‘teaching’ are not supported by EYFS. There is a clear discord between government policy and regulatory practice. In a positive vein providers in Stockport have risen to the challenge and embraced the delivery of places for 2 year olds, working together with our local authority exploring innovative ways to provide a flexible service to meet the increased demands. With the valued support of our local authority we have built a respectable, high quality early years service in Stockport with 84% of providers attaining a ‘good’ or better quality rating.
The introduction of places for the most vulnerable 2 year olds has put the sector under immense pressure with settings encountering increasing challenges at a time when resources and support from our local authority is dwindling under financial pressure. As intended, the 2 year old initiative is resulting in early identification of children requiring speech and language, behavioural support and other early intervention measures. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children requiring ‘team around the child’ support or safeguarding intervention; however the services structure to support such intervention is not available to meet the demand, and in some case is non-existent. Providers now have no access to safeguarding training or support, special educational needs or speech and language guidance. We are also aware that the future of our early years improvement team and children’s information service (Family Info Link) is at risk due to financial constraints. I fully support the notion of continued quality improvement; however the threat to close nurseries down who do not meet the required standards is alarming. At present 25% of settings nationally are reported to be satisfactory but this figure is likely to escalate in the light of the bar being raised on expectations of quality. The proposed increase in child to adult ratio is also likely to impact severely on quality, as no amount of qualifications can compensate for individual care and attention to meet the basic needs of individuals, something that the NHS has concluded in it’s recent review. Increased pressure from Ofsted reforms will not ‘force’ settings to improve quality, true quality improvements require adequate resources. Adjusting the ratio to fit the funding is merely ‘cutting the cloth to fit the means’. The Minister’s remark that adjusting the ratio to enable our workforce to have the higher salary that other sectors are rewarded is in effect blatant black-mail. How can we raise the ratio knowing that we could be putting our children at risk? Our workforce deserves to paid a fair salary for the valuable service they bestow. As providers we find ourselves caught between a ‘rock and a hard place’! If the proposals go ahead and increased resources are not made available, we stand to loose a 25% of the sector delivering childcare to working families. What effect would this have on the economy, when parents are unable to secure childcare to enable them to work? We are being ‘sold’ the concept that these proposals are in the best interest of our children. This is insulting to those of us who have invested so much personally, many of us gaining degrees in the subject that we care passionately about. I would suggest to the Minister that as early years graduates backed by academics in our field, we possess the knowledge and understanding to know how best to nurture young children and we should be positively encouraged and supported, not threatened and intimidated with negative remarks and untruths. The Minister is constantly promoting the French model as the pièce de résistance, however as Purnima Tunuku CEO of NDNA point out, in The Economist Intelligence Unit Report ‘Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world’ the UK ranked third in the world for quality of early years education, with France falling in 9th place. Our Childcare Minister should be celebrating the high quality of provision in the UK, supporting the sector, raising the aspiration of providers and working with us as we transport our precious cargo towards a brighter horizon; a voyage that should have a positive impact on us all and reap real economic returns for our country and society as a whole. Instead of guiding us through uncharted waters the Minister is bombarding the sector with criticism, a sector which is already listing under pressure. We now find ourselves a rudderless vessel, heading towards the rocks with valued, experienced, highly qualified staff jumping overboard to the rafts of safety seeking employment elsewhere and the moral of those that are left sinking faster day by day. Kind regards,
Wendy Hartley Stockport Childcare Provider
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