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Putting the spotlight on the wonderful early years amidst a general election

June 24, 2024
4 minute read

Kelly Hill, CEO & Founder TEYC, Owner of Codsall Community Nursery, reflects on the party manifestos ahead of the general election.

At The Early Years Company, we recognise the challenges parents face in securing nursery places for their children. As a training provider that works directly with settings every day, and the owner of a children’s nursery, we see first hand these challenges from both the perspective of the parent and the setting. The proposal from Labour to create 100,000 new nursery places in England, particularly in areas with limited provision, is a promising step forward, but isn’t without it’s flaws and challenges.

Firstly, we must address the existing issues in nursery provision. In several areas under Labour control, crucial nursery places are at risk of closure. This includes significant concerns in areas we are prevalent in, such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Staffordshire. It's bewildering to us that labour is to consider converting schools for nursery use when there are purpose-built nursery facilities that simply need support to remain open. What’s more, schools just aren’t geared up to accommodate very young children and meet their unique needs, in our opinion. We believe that while expanding childcare provision is necessary, the current approach of creating nursery places in primary schools is fundamentally flawed. Early years care and education is specialised, requiring facilities tailored to the needs of babies and young children. Converting classrooms for this purpose is not only expensive but overlooks the specific needs of early years education.

We know that one of the reasons settings are being forced to close their doors is due to challenges around recruitment, made significantly more prominent from the government's expansion of free childcare without a national recruitment drive first or increased funding. Therefore, settings, businesses and parents are naturally concerned about how Labour's proposal will ensure that new nursery places will be fully staffed with properly trained professionals. Just putting our youngest children in schools will not make any difference to the recruitment issues we currently face.

While it is commendable that Keir Starmer promises more affordable childcare, albeit without a clear picture of what this actually looks like, the critical issue remains a severe shortage of qualified staff. Nurseries across the country, including in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Staffordshire, struggle to recruit due to the increasing demands of qualifications and training required for early years education jobs, while pay and conditions also remain a barrier.

Notwithstanding this, I feel we have a role to play. Our current negative discourse around working in the early years sector does nothing to encourage new entrants into our labour market. Why would anyone want to work in early years, when all they see is negativity around pay, long hours, recruitment issues and Ofsted stress. It’s time we turned the tide and began to shine a spotlight on the wonderful work we do, the rewards of seeing babies develop in confidence, hearing non verbal children use their voice for the first time, and so much more. We must celebrate the work we do in keeping children safe from harm, in supporting families in need and in laying the foundations for lifelong learning.

Many parents express that childcare costs are so high that it hardly makes sense to work. This sentiment further highlights the need to value early years educators appropriately. Without addressing this fundamental issue, the creation of 100,000 new nursery places will remain an unfulfilled promise.

No comprehensive model of delivery has been proposed. With an existing staff shortage, the question remains: who will work in these new nursery places? Recent reports highlight the failures in current recruitment efforts by the Department for Education.

At TEYC we wholeheartedly advocate for publicly owned and democratically controlled free nursery provision for all, where the unique needs of every child can be met. We believe that effective, quality nursery provision requires proper planning, adequate staffing, and fair valuation of childcare professionals. We call on policymakers to consider these critical factors to ensure the success of any new childcare initiatives.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy; Belonging - A Place in Sport for Every Child | The Early Years Company.

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