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Why Early Years Childcare is a Key Election Issue

Why is early years childcare such a hot topic in the election?

Nursery owners are urging the next government to show more “respect” for early years education workers by boosting their pay and training. Childcare sector staff assert that employees should have the same status as school teachers, emphasising that they’re not just providing a “babysitting” service.

Early years education, a critical yet underfunded sector, has become a pivotal issue in the upcoming election. Nursery staff and owners argue that these workers deserve the same recognition and remuneration as school teachers. The current lack of funding forces many to work for minimum wage, despite their significant role in children’s development. Calls for reform are growing louder, with demands for improved training, better pay, and more transparency in funding. As political parties present their childcare policies, the sector’s future hangs in the balance, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive and well-funded strategy to support early years education.

Is early years childcare really just glorified babysitting, or is it a vital pillar of our society? This question lies at the heart of a heated debate as nursery owners and staff call on the next government to respect and invest in early years education. The stakes are high: the formative years are critical for child development, yet the sector remains underfunded and its workers undervalued. As we approach the general election, early years childcare has emerged as a key issue, sparking demands for higher pay, better training, and greater recognition for those who dedicate their careers to nurturing our youngest generation.

The Reality of Early Years Education

Early years education is far from being a mere babysitting service. The National Day Nursery Association (NDNA) describes it as a high-pressured environment with significant responsibilities. Nursery staff are instrumental in shaping children’s development during their most formative years. Despite this, many nursery workers are paid minimum wage, reflecting a systemic undervaluation of their crucial role.

Nancy Kotecha, owner of Osbaldwick Montessori in York, highlights the disparity in funding between early years settings and primary schools. While new primary schools receive state funding, nurseries often rely on self-funding, placing enormous financial strain on owners. Kotecha argues that this lack of support from the government delays the establishment of new nurseries and undermines the sector’s stability.

Neil Collins, manager of Kotecha’s nursery, emphasises the need for better public understanding of the childcare profession. “It’s not babysitting,” he asserts. “More needs to go into training so it’s valued in the same way as being a teacher. Start calling it ‘early education’ and not ‘childcare’.” Collins notes that the high turnover rate among nursery staff is partly due to the lack of respect and recognition for their work.

The Government’s Response

The Department for Education has launched recruitment campaigns and offered £1,000 sign-on bonuses to attract people to the childcare sector. However, campaigners argue that these measures are insufficient. They are demanding a comprehensive overhaul of the rules surrounding free nursery hours and greater investment in the sector ahead of the 4 July general election.

One of the key issues is the complexity and perceived unfairness of the current funding system. Government rules entitle parents of children aged nine months to two years to 15 hours per week of free childcare, increasing to 30 hours once the child turns three. However, this funding only covers term-time, while most nurseries operate year-round, leading to confusion and frustration among parents.

The Case for More Funding

The lack of adequate funding is a recurring theme. Jonathan Broadbery, director of policy and communications at the NDNA, points out that 75% of a nursery’s operational budget goes towards staffing. Without sufficient income or government funding, nurseries struggle to pay their staff competitive wages. Broadbery calls for a fully-funded workforce strategy and a long-term plan to attract and retain talented individuals in the sector.

Kotecha and other nursery owners are also calling for greater transparency and simplicity in the funding formulas used by the government. The current system is seen as convoluted and inconsistent, making it difficult for nurseries to plan their finances and for parents to understand their entitlements.

Political Party Policies

As the election approaches, political parties are outlining their plans for early years childcare:

  • Conservatives: They propose expanding their free childcare offer, allowing parents to claim 30 hours of government-funded childcare per week over 38 weeks of the year, from the age of nine months up to school age.
  • Labour: Labour plans to roll out funding for free childcare and open 3,300 new nurseries in primary school classrooms, creating 100,000 more nursery places.
  • Liberal Democrats: Their manifesto includes plans for flexible, affordable, and fair childcare, increasing maternity, paternity, and shared parental leave pay, and enhancing child benefit for one-year-olds.
  • Reform: They pledge to “frontload” the child benefit system for children aged 1-4 to give parents more time with their children.
  • Green Party: They aim to abolish the two-child benefit cap, extend the government’s offer of childcare to 35 hours per week from nine months of age, and invest £1.4 billion per year in Sure Start centres.

The debate over early years childcare underscores a critical need for reform and investment in the sector. Nursery staff and owners are calling for higher pay, better training, and more recognition of their vital role in child development. Political parties have put forward various proposals, but the consensus among those within the sector is clear: significant change is needed to ensure that early years education receives the respect and funding it deserves. As the election looms, the future of early years childcare remains a crucial issue that could shape the next generation’s development and well-being.

“More needs to go into training so it’s valued in the same way as being a teacher. Start calling it ‘early education’ and not ‘childcare’.”

– Neil Collins

Join the conversation and demand better funding and recognition for early years education. Share your thoughts on social media using #EarlyYearsMatter and #InvestInChildcare.

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