In the last twenty years, great progress has been made on childcare. It has transformed from being seen as a ‘women’s issue’ to a vote winner and a mainstay of manifestos. We at the Family and Childcare Trust want to see all parties build on the achievements of past governments, with ambitious and radical childcare policies in all manifestos.
But as parties consider which childcare policies to adopt, it is worth pausing to consider that their eventual success or failure will rely on the childcare professionals and providers tasked with delivering them. And this is a sector that is struggling. Early years staff are among the lowest paid professionals in the labour market: non-senior staff in private and voluntary day care providers earn on average £8.00 per hour whilst senior managers earn £11.20 per hour. And staff turnover is high: the think tank Pearson, found that over half of early years graduates have considered quitting the profession, 72 per cent due to workload and 38 per cent due to low pay. Early years professionals are helping the next generation to learn vital life skills, often while underpaid and undervalued.
High quality early education is vital – it can help narrow the gap that opens up between poor children and their peers before they have even started school. It provides a golden opportunity to boost social mobility. Yet, while we spend £4,900 per year on a child in primary school, we spend just £1,700 per year on a child in early education. We need early education to be on the same footing as schools, and crucially, funded at similar levels.
As a first step towards this, we urge the next party in power to install a Chief Early Years Officer, similar to that for social workers. This would make sure the voice of the sector was heard in government and government would get independent advice. Without representation like this, providers and parents lose out.
Ambitious childcare policies help to boost children’s outcomes and support parents to work: they simply are some of the smartest investments any government can make. But for childcare to achieve its full potential, we need funding and representation to support the army of unsung heroes that are caring for and educating the next generation.