Re: Childcare Changes

I write on behalf of a large number of my constituents who have contacted me about the Government’s proposed changes to childcare -; specifically, the changes to the ratios of childcare professionals : children and the changes to the role of local authorities  in improving and monitoring childcare.

I enclose a huge petition. This has been signed by my constituents who have children at different nurseries in Islington, but who all share the same concerns about these proposals.

Childcare Ratios:

The plans to increase childcare ratios in early years settings for all age groups will unquestionably put a significantly greater demand on childcare professionals -; who may already feel stretched with the current ratios, particularly in areas with high levels of deprivation like Inner London. Increasing the number of children per staff member will harm the quality of early learning, risk the safety of the children in the short term,  and could affect the educational development of the children in the long term.

My constituents and I are not prepared to support measures that will jeopardise the quality of childcare based on an unverified claim that it will reduce the cost of childcare on parents. I am yet to see or hear any evidence to support this.

Of course we should be doing everything we can to make childcare more affordable for parents, but it seems to me that there are other ideas that would improve the quality and affordability of childcare. A good start would be reversing the devastating cuts in child care tax credit this Government pushed through, which have seen some families lost up to £1,560 a year in support, extending free nursery hours for three and four year olds from 15 hours to 20 hours, and reopening the 401 Sure Start centres which have closed down since 2010. What consideration has been given to these alternatives?

At the very least, these proposals should be voted on to ensure you have the necessary support to implement these changes -; I would urge you once again to consider putting these proposals before the House and not simply amend childcare ratios through statutory guidance.

Reducing role of LA:

The other main concern raised by my constituents was regarding the DfE consultation on plans to remove LAs responsibility for monitoring and improving childcare -; instead leaving this responsibility solely with Ofsted.

I am concerned that this is a risky, unnecessary and potentially harmful move. It would take away the local knowledge, expertise and value that LAs bring to ensuring childcare meets the needs of local children according to the demographic of that particular borough. It overlooks the long lasting relationships that LAs would have built with providers in the area which drive through improvement.

If this responsibility for monitoring is given solely to OFSTED, it is likely that inspections will only take place once every three years. This is a considerable amount of time, during which a reduction in quality would go unnoticed, and providers would not be given the support needed to improve.

We should be helping early years settings to maintain and improve the quality of provision, and Local Authorities  are vital partners in achieving this by assessing their strengths and weaknesses on a day to day basis.

The budget for training childcare professionals has been cut by 40% since the last general election. The Government is now suggesting removing the duty of LAs to secure training for early years providers altogether -; early years providers will instead have to buy training. Many small and community based organisations may find that they are unable to afford the level of training they had been able to access from local authorities.

I would be grateful if you could respond to these concerns -; what consideration has been given to the affordability and access of training for providers? 

What has resonated from each parent, provider and professional who has contacted me is the deep concern they feel about each of these proposals in isolation, but also importantly combined together. The quality of early years settings will suffer a double negative impact, and parents fear the worst for their children. For the first time they are worried that this generation will not be afforded the same quality early learning opportunities as the generation before them.

Finally, I would urge you to listen to the collective and overwhelming opposition to your plans. I think you should reconsider imposing increased childcare ratios, and you should recognise the valuable role Local Authorities play in supporting and developing early years provision.

Thank you for your help in this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Emily Thornberry MP

Islington South and Finsbury

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