Early Learning and Childcare 1140 hours expansion
We write further to the above Scottish Government Discussion Paper.
It is noted that Scottish Government’s aim is to develop high quality, flexible early learning and childcare (ELC) which is affordable and accessible for all.
In this respect, we note that Scottish Government aspire to increase ELC entitlement to 1140 hours per year by 2020. This will in all probability be extremely beneficial to parents and carers, in terms of flexibility afforded to pursue employment opportunities.
In describing future childcare aspirations by the number of hours delivered rather than by the quality of its content, however, there is the risk that any reforms are too squarely focused upon the economic benefits gained through an increase in the number of working parents. It is our organisation’s view that, ultimately, the quality of educational experience for children must lie at the heart of any reform to the early years sector. Indeed, as the Discussion Paper itself notes on page 16, a range of research evidence indicates that provision must be of high quality if benefits for child outcomes are to be realised. Research also makes clear that investment in staff and settings underpins high quality provision.
The First Minister described Scottish Government’s aspirations for ELC as a matter that they wish to be the defining legacy of the next Parliament. This work was also described by the First Minister as the biggest infrastructure project of the next Parliament, making clear that high quality ELC provision is key. It is clear that substantial financial investment will be necessary to turn such a significant project into a reality. Full cognisance must be taken of the significant financial constraints under which local authorities are operating if any reforms are to be implemented without a compromise in quality of educational experience for children.
It is essential that any trials and subsequent expansion are operationally feasible. It is unclear at this time where the staffing required to facilitate the expansion and, indeed, a meaningful programme of trials, will come from. As noted above, page 16 of the Discussion Paper makes clear that investment in staff and settings, including staff salaries, underpins high quality provision. In terms of securing a suitably qualified and diverse workforce sufficient to deliver an extended service, the terms and conditions of early years professionals must form a key consideration as part of this expansion.
The First Minister recently announced that all nurseries in the most deprived areas of Scotland would, be 2018, have an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate. This is indeed a welcome announcement. However, whilst these practitioners are referred to interchangeably within this announcement, the terms and conditions of teachers and childhood practitioners are certainly not comparable.
Recent research highlights qualified and unqualified childcare workers as being amongst the lowest paid. Qualified childcare professionals who have trained and undertaken academic and practical assessment are more likely to earn the minimum wage or a little above it for most of their career. Promotion opportunities are limited and often provide greater responsibility, which is not matched or reflected by the accompanying salary increase.
Scottish Government’s recent response to the Independent Review of the Scottish Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and Out of School Care (OSC) Workforce indicated a commitment to the Living Wage for those working in the sector. However, Voice Scotland believes that a national pay and conditions structure, with pay levels reflective of the duties and responsibilities of early years professionals, is what is required to successfully develop the sector and to attract a diverse range of applicants. As part of this, Voice believes that research should be undertaken to establish the range of terms and conditions of pay and employment of qualified childcare staff, to establish a benchmark position.
Separately, the OECD suggest it is not the qualification per se, but rather the ability of the staff to create a high-quality pedagogic environment that matters. The terms and conditions of early years professionals once again need to be considered in this respect.
Early years professionals do not have protected non-contact time for planning and preparation activities. Indeed, with the introduction of 600 hours, any non-contact time that had been in place before was significantly reduced in many instances in order to accommodate the required increase in contact time. Training is often undertaken in an employee’s own time and without time in lieu arrangements in place. Such a trend does not bode well in terms of ensuring a high quality experience and would question why early years practitioners are being encouraged to increase their qualification standards for a working environment which prevents them from fully utilising the knowledge they have gained. The question of resources available to service providers is once again at the centre of this issue.
Voice Scotland is concerned that, if proper funding is not made available for implementation, local authorities will be forced to bring about any increase in hours “on the cheap” and the aspirations of a high quality service and the desired outcomes for children will not be achieved. In light of the current financial climate, this would certainly appear to be a very real risk if not appropriately managed in partnership with service providers and practitioners.
Voice Scotland would be pleased to continue to engage with Scottish Government as this project progresses, to ensure that the voices of practitioners are heard.