Free childcare places should be scrapped for middle-class families with help targeted at poorer children, education watchdog Ofsted implied today. Sue Gregory, the inspectorate’s National Director of Education, warns funding is spread ‘very thinly’ in offering all three-year-olds 15 hours at a nursery or childminder during term time. This is from the Daily Mail…
She suggests childcare should instead be funded on the same basis as the coalition’s Pupil Premium in schools, where schools receive extra cash linked to the number of children from the poorest families. The soaring cost of childcare has become a major issue for the government, with some studies suggesting a family where a second earner takes a job on the minimum wage will be just £4-a-week better off than if they stayed at home.
Family policy championed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has seen childcare provision extended to two-year-olds from the 40 per cent of least well-off families.
But in a lecture today, Ms Gregory suggests the universal subsidy for three-year-olds is not working.
‘Universal provision has spread resources very thinly and it’s crucial that lessons are learnt from current schemes in operation,’ she was due to say Foundling Museum in Central London.
‘Schools receive additional funding for their most disadvantaged pupils through the Pupil Premium.
‘A similar scheme could work in early years to help ensure that high quality staff are employed where the two-year-old offer is most needed.’
From January child benefit is being cut for families where one person earns more than £50,000, and any further attempt to target cuts on well-off parents will be politically-contentious.
Ms Gregory says a Pupil Premium-style funding system for under-5s would help close the gap in learning between children from different backgrounds.
In her speech she does not explicitly say that funding for middle class families should be cut outright, but at a time of austerity across Whitehall any attempt to target poorer children would come at a cost for others.
She is also using Ofsted’s first annual lecture on early years to call for nursery staff to be better trained to look after young children.
‘All those working with young children should be highly skilled and qualified to degree level,’ Ms Gregory said.
‘If we’re serious about investing in a better-qualified workforce we should pay more. Nursery staff wages often hover around the minimum and even a graduate early years professional earns only half a teacher’s salary.’
At the moment, individuals need higher grades to train to work as a veterinary assistant than to work with young children, she says.
Any attempt to increase the entry-level requirements for nursery workers would push up costs.
A Government-commissioned review published in June concluded that qualifications for childminders and nursery staff are failing to provide the knowledge and skills needed to care and teach young children.
It called for a major revamp of the system with all staff educated to A-level standard.