The Government has promised to provide more nursery places for disadvantaged two-year-olds. But is it willing to pay for thousands of extra trained carers? This is from the Independent…
Ask Gabi Wainwright about her chosen career as a childcarer and she will regale you with tales of her godson Finley Joe, to whom she devoted hours of attention every day while her friend, the boy’s mother, was working.
Gabi took time out from her own busy timetable at Leeds City College to help to nurture him. “I was involved with him taking his first steps and crerating his first words,” she says, “helping him to speak long and complex sentences. This fed into my college work and without college I would not be where I am today.”
Having completed the two-year A-level-equivalent extended diploma in childcare, 19-year-old Gabi is now in charge of eight one- and two-year-old “Finley Joes” at Asquith Nursery. “We nurse children, meet their most basic and individual needs and give the education – learning through play – that helps them develop social skills, language and communication. It is important that all children are given equal opportunity, a chance in life to develop. That’s what I’m there for.”
Gabi is not untypical of many opting for childcare; leaving school with a vague wish to be an English teacher but having poor GCSEs, she revised her ambitions. “I thought maybe I would be a nursery nurse as I wanted to work with children,” she says. The college course, however, opened her eyes to much more. After struggling at the start, within a year she blossomed because, she says, “the tutors gave me constant support throughout”. Now a full-time childcarer, Gabi also plans to do a degree part time in nutritional science for children.
Leeds City College is outstanding for childcare training, say Ofsted and the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (Cache), the oldest and largest of childcare-training awarding bodies. More than 500 students are on courses from Entry Level (pre-GCSE) to Level 5 (degree), with a huge increase over the coming months at the request of the local authority. Following a coalition-government £1bn pledge of free childcare places in England for an additional 260,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds by 2014, demand for more trained carers should rise by more than 50,000.
But part-time care costs on average £5,000 a year for parents who pay, and the challenge in the recession, David Cameron says, is to keep costs down. Launching the National Childcare Commission in June, he said: “We will do all we can to reduce the cost of childcare for parents and make sure they have affordable, high-quality places.” He put the then-Education minister Sarah Teather and the Work and Pensions Under-Secretary Maria Miller in charge, to report back later this autumn with recommendations on costs and training.
There are, however, real concerns among Cache officials, college leaders and other training groups that quality training will be sacrificed to cut costs, despite recommendations from an official review of qualifications this summer for tougher training. Professor Cathy Nutbrown, the review’s chair, said the entry bar for training should be raised to A-level (Level 3) minimum, arguing that costs could be constrained by increasing the size of the groups professionals should expect to manage.
However, a parallel report by the Conservative MP Elizabeth Truss, for the think tank CentreForum, calls for wholesale deregulation and cost cutting, with a “mums’ army” of volunteers effectively running the show. Teather’s sympathies are with Nutbrown, but she is now out of the frame, replaced as minister by David Laws in Cameron’s reshuffle. Truss was made Education minister with responsibility for childcare. So, even if the mums’-army idea may have receded, the more draconian approach of Truss’s looks likely, since a central part of Cameron’s remit to the commission is to “relax the rules”, cut costs and scrap unnecessary red tape, giving employers greater discretion.
When an extra £100m in capital spending for nursery-age children was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat Party conference last month, there was considerable hype and no mention of the original £1bn pledge. The new cash will not meet the training needs.