A trip to Westminster

I was selected, along with a small group of bloggers, to go to Westminster yesterday, to meet with the minister responsible for the proposed childcare reform (you can read the full proposal here). The main ideas behind the proposals are to reduce the amount of qualifications available, to increase the ratios of children cared for (to bring the UK position in line with European countries) and to improve the quality of inspections of early years care providers. 

I have to admit to going with pretty sceptical views. My concerns primarily relate to the proposed changes to the qualifications requirements, although I accept that clearly, with over 400 qualifications available to prospective childcare practitioners, this is a ridiculous situation and some changes are clearly required. However, enforcing a rule which says that all childcare providers should have at least a grade C in maths and English, seems to be possibly pushing it too far and potentially ruling out some excellent candidates.
The main issues which came out of the meeting are that childcare quality varies significantly from region to region, as does price. The availability and flexibility of childcare is also a huge problem in some regions. Personally, I also have an issue with how much the childminder costs. We pay £3.50 per hour for each child. If I had any money, I wouldn't hesitate to pay her extra. What she does is definitely worth more than that.

The minister emphasised that nurseries are currently struggling with sustainability. Encouraging high quality staff will provide children with better care. She reassured us that childminders do not have to join an agency, however she stressed that there is something fundamentally good about networks, organisations which help people with training. She also explained that only high quality nurseries employing high quality people will be granted increased ratio flexibility, meaning that poorly performing nurseries will not be able to take advantage of having more children in their care. We were told that further proposals will be following soon, on the affordability of childcare. The minister said that there will 'hopefully be good news soon for working parents'. 

The discussions with others made me realise that we are very lucky to have a flexible childminder who lives in a fantastic location and has an amazing house and garden. We only have a back yard so it was important for me to choose somewhere more free and open. They have chickens there and collect the eggs every day. I really am confident that they are in the best possible place.

What I care about for my children with their childminder is that they are loved, respected and their confidence grows. Yes, I want them to learn basic maths and to read and write, but I wouldn't mind if my childminder didn't have a C in maths - it doesn't affect her ability to teach my children the very basics. I have a friend who is a qualified primary school teacher. She has no common sense, struggles with grammar and mathematics and panics when things do not go to plan. I, for one, would not feel confident if she were my children's teacher. She is highly qualified in comparison with my childminder, but I know who I would trust more with my children.

A few years back, I tried to apply for teacher training but was told I couldn't because I didn't have a combined science GCSE. Instead, I have GCSEs in advanced physics and advanced chemistry. I didn't do Biology. By the same token, I think the idea of excluding someone from a job they might be fantastic at just because they do not have a grade C in maths or English is fundamentally wrong. 

The extract which frustrates me the most in the document is this: 

"Yet early years qualifications do not presently require learners to have mastered basic literacy and numeracy. This is damaging both to children's development and to parents' confidence in the system as a whole."

Really? Surely you need to have mastered basic literacy and numeracy to learn how to work with children. At what level are we expecting our children to be taught? Do our three year olds really need to learn quadratic equations and differentiation? No, they need to build their confidence, to grow as a person, to interact with other children of all ages, to play, to be independent and imaginative. In order to do this, they need support, guidance, patience, reassurance and love.

The chance to be educated is open to many people, but intelligence, in my mind at least, is not something which can be taught. There is a huge difference. Someone without qualifications can be highly literate, succinct, passionate, caring and intuitive. I would argue that the need to have a grade C in maths and English at GCSE level creates a possibly insurmountable barrier to entry for many potentially outstanding childcare practitioners. I appreciate that changes need to be made but, in my opinion, the focus of those changes is in the wrong area. Surely it is more important that someone is intuitively good with our children than someone who can teach them Pythagoras' Theorem?