I spent an interesting morning at the PACEY conference yesterday. The initial attraction being a keynote speech delivered by MP Sam Gyimah. However, I found myself surrounded by many respected and well-known figures in the Early Years Sector and a panel of inspiring speakers who have certainly given me much food for thought on how we meet children’s needs as a community rather than in isolation as an early years setting.
Reviewing the Minister’s speech, it is obvious he completely gets what the key issues are and how unfair the current funding system is, not least for the children. But it does concern me as to how well our sector has presented their case. He commented on Laura Henry ‘stalking’ him online and before the conference, lobbying him for 10 mins whilst walking there. Well done Laura! He was keen to inform us that £6billiion is more than any other government has spent on early years and the achievement of £1billion ‘new’ money is no small feat. He explained it is being used as £300million for the funding rate uplift and £700million for the 30 hours. He talked of the Government being now not only the largest ‘buyers’ of childcare but also as ‘investors’ in childcare, with a new Workforce Strategy being worked on right now.
During the speech and the following questions (of which I managed one) I found myself analysing his choice of words. The ongoing reference to ‘affordable high quality childcare’ and the focus on facilitating wraparound care for the 30 hours using flexible models with schools working with childminders and nurseries makes it clear to me this is all about meeting the manifesto promise of 30 hours and nothing to do with supporting children. What we have to be mindful of though, is that there are a lot more parents out there with voting power than nurseries, childminders and early year practitioners, so is our voice being ‘lost’ I wondered. He again mentioned the 19,000 parent responses to the consultation last summer and (a mere) 2000 responses from the early years sector and whilst he said in his speech “I am listening”, I am wondering to who?
So, my question related directly to the news that the PLA had made a FOI request on the consultation information and that, after some considerable delay in responding the DfE declared that they did not hold the information themselves but they had used it as a ‘source of information’, amongst other things, including a costs survey from 2012, to inform the new ‘average’ funding rate (which he has again quoted as £4.88 and £5.39). How can we be sure, I asked, that the government is really listening if they are not looking at the latest available data (because they don’t have it) but relying more on information from a 2012 costs report to inform them. And alongside that how will we see future funding rates be linked to rises in the National Living Wage.
The response I received emphasised that no other Government has done more to engage with the sector, to listen to what was needed and is continuing to do so. He accepted that Deloitte held the consultation information but did not expand on its use within the funding rate decisions (the PLA have asked for more information on this), nor on any links to future NLW rises, a point I will pursue. However, he urged us to “please tell me more” and says they are still listening and that “we must continue to inform” them and tell them what the ongoing issues are. Therefore, there is more work for all of us to do. We need to double and treble our voices and more importantly we need to be more precise in the information we are providing – to better inform them. The more conversations I have about this with MP’s and others reminds me of phrases I have heard more than once such as ‘no-one knows the cost of an hour’, ‘it’s too difficult to work out’ and ‘everyone’s costs are different so how will that help’. Well in order to put our case forward about being underfunded we need to sharpen up – and fast. We need to look not just at tomorrow’s (2017) funding rate, but what is happening in the next 2-3 years and what impact a £9 minimum wage will have on a sustainable funded rate. We need to send in the numbers. We need to decide as a sector what pay rates we think our staff deserve and therefore what differentials our seniors and managers and indeed ourselves are paid.
It is no good us complaining about funding, if, when asked, we don’t respond, if we just sit back and let everyone else take responsibility then nothing will change. Everyone needs to put forward their case – to their MP’s and to the Minister direct or through the DfE – including what their real life hourly costs are – or what they SHOULD be if we are to pay staff better rates. The time to be heard is now – whilst they are listening!
So another question asked was about the timescales of when we hear exactly on the real figures rather than the averages, what each LA will receive and therefore what providers and childminders will receive. “Quite soon” was the response, indeed “in a few months” . From this I read: we’ve got a lot to do and a short time to do it in, so I suspect the Early Years National Fairer Funding Formula consultation period will be very, very short. Apparently there may be some illustrative numbers with the LA’s by 2017, confirming that LA’s will still be managing this at present, but he also re-iterated there will be ‘less involvement’ from the LA for our sector.
I also learned about a new Early Years Sector Skills Council being started under the umbrella of the National Association of Head Teachers. It will be interesting to watch the development of this to see how it can be another, possibly even more powerful , voice for the Early Years sector under a very well-known umbrella. I have put my name forward as being interested to join the panel, although I suspect there are far greater voices than mine that have also done so as well…
As I said at the beginning many other interesting speakers looked at the theme of working together as a community and preparing children for school, with details of a project that PACEY were involved in.
And lastly an interesting conversation with the CEO about how Pacey, as an association could be helping Day Nursery Owners as a recognised group of their own! Watch this space.
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About the author: Tricia Wellings
Her passion for and knowledge of owning and running a nursery group and the issues within the sector that affect them is second to none. She continues to keep herself updated through regular meetings with PVI groups, Local Authorities, Ofsted Big Conversation and Conferences.
You can find our more about Tricia on her website www.triciawellings.co.uk