Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. So for the record I would agree with you that more professionalism in this area is desirable if the provision of child care is affordable for the parents. That is a critical factor. For the record, the Government is alive to the problem that professionalisation could be driving people out and you are coming forward with measures to try and make sure that does not happen?
  (Ms Hodge) No, I do not think it is the professionalisation that is driving people out. I think it is the tightening labour market whereby people are choosing to go elsewhere. The response to the training opportunities that we are putting to child minders is overwhelmingly positive. We do not get people saying, "You are expecting us to gain this more professional attitude. We do not want it." It is not that. One of the ambitions we have got is to enable people to come in without any qualifications at all, with having an instinctive liking of working with children, and in a modular way work themselves through to a new higher professional qualification which we will have in place probably in about a year's time, NVQ 5-ish sort of thing, so that you can modularly work up to that. Then we want to provide routes which will have a thousand child care workers trained as teachers by 2004.

  101. I was giving out awards at a Pre-School Learning Alliance Ceremony for some of their staff who had been through the training programme and of course, as you said, it is very positive for them. However, I was hearing yet again from the Pre-School Learning Alliance that despite what you have described in terms of this additional resource going into the sector they are very concerned by the future of nursery schools in our area, let alone in others. What investigations has your Department done into why, at a time when you are putting in so much more resource, traditional providers of nursery schools are still closing?
  (Ms Hodge) Traditional providers of nursery schools—

  102. Or long standing providers.
  (Ms Hodge) Are you talking about pre-schools?

  103. Yes.
  (Ms Hodge) I think we have turned the corner on that one, I have to say to you. As I quite often say in the Chamber, last year for the first time we got an increase of 6,000 places in the pre-school sector. Again, it has been a range of measures that we have taken which has not just ensured—one tries not to be overly party-political in Select Committees but bluntly the pre-schools suffered their biggest blow with the nursery voucher scheme, which was, I am sure, an unintended consequence of that scheme, but nevertheless was the reality. That is when you got the biggest decline in pre-schools. We have been grappling with how we change the nature of pre-schools so that they more adequately meet the needs of children and the needs of working families in a new age, and I think we are being successful. They are still picking up 80 per cent of the three-year old places.

  104. Can I just correct one aspect of that because pre-schools in my area say whether you fund the four-year old places through a voucher or through direct payments does not actually make a difference to the pressure. The pressure is there and in paragraph 58 of our report, as we had an exchange in the Commons last week about this, we say that we have been concerned with evidence that parents come under inappropriate pressure to enrol their children in reception classes. Can I ask you as a final question: you say there has been an expansion in pre-school places. How much of that expansion has been in the independent sector and how much of that has been in the funded sector? What is happening is that you are obviously having a big expansion of funded places, but the fear is that you are crowding out the independent sector.
  (Ms Hodge) We are not.

  105. And pre-schools in the area I represent are saying they are delighted to hear the plans we have as a Conservative education authority for creating more pre-school provision but they are worried about the knock-on effect on their other pre-school provision in the area because there will not be enough people going to those schools and they may actually have to close because a critical number of them are being drawn to the new provision.
  (Ms Hodge) The funding of the expansion of three-year old places is primarily going into the private and voluntary sector. In excess of 80 per cent of the new places that we are funding are going into the private and voluntary sector, so we are not crowding them out. We are providing them with resources to sustain and grow the sector. That is the first thing to say. Private day nurseries are expanding like there is no tomorrow. They are one of the fastest growing sectors. Pre-schools are also, in a whole range of ways, grasping our agenda. Chairman, you talked about the vision. The vision we have is of breaking down all the traditional barriers and boundaries that used to exist between child care and early years education and trying to build a holistic service. That means providing integrated services, not just necessarily a two and a half hour session but integrated services that meet the needs of children, both for nurturing and for education, and meet the needs of changing families. We are talking to pre-schools at the moment. They want to be a big player in the Neighbourhood Nursery expansion, and they want to lead that from the head office. We have given them quite a lot of money. Recently I announced another four million pounds which they are getting to develop wrap-around care and to look at new ways of expanding. There really is a revolution going on in the pre-school sector as much as anywhere else to respond to what we are trying to construct. The final thing I want to say to you, because there is so much mythology about this, is that this idea that children and families are being forced out of the voluntary and private sector into the school sector is just not borne out by the evidence. There are two things I would say about that. One is that our analysis of admission policies shows that about half have a two-term policy—admit people twice in a year. The second thing is that the analysis that we did, which was a totally valid statistical analysis, on summer born children, who are the ones most likely to be pushed into a reception class too early, showed that 80 per cent of parents were happy that their summer born child started school as a four-year old, 71 per cent said that they did not defer and would not have considered deferring, 80 per cent said they had enough information, and, interestingly enough, 28 per cent of parents said that their play group had encouraged them to move their child. I think there is a lot of mythology growing up around this.

  106. That means 72 per cent discouraged.
  (Ms Hodge) No.

Charlotte Atkins

  107. I am glad you clarified that because I think there is a lot of mythology about it. Certainly I am pleased that the pre-school play groups and schools have been encouraged to become more professional in terms of looking at the progress of their children. It is training I want to look at in particular. First of all, I would like to know what aspects of training in Early Years you focused on in particular and what areas have you given top priority to.
  (Ms Hodge) We have now got a budget of £184 million for training over the next three years. We have also set a target for the Learning and Skills Council to train 230,000 people to NVQ 2/3 and there is money in the standard spending assessment for local authorities to spend more money on training. Of course there is the access to individual learning accounts and modern apprenticeships and all those programmes which are providing things for the child care sector. We are prioritising the foundation stage in Early Learning goals and we are doing that in a number of ways. Every practitioner working in the foundation stage will have to provide four days' continuous training for professional development for all those practitioners by 2004. Some of them are there already; one of the things we vet in the plans. We want a ratio of 1:10 for teachers to Early Years settings by 2004. Just to jog you all, there are 35,000 settings delivering early years education. Compare that to 24,000/25,000 schools that we have got, so that is a massive task. We have said that every teacher working in the foundation stage must undertake training that is appropriate to the early years, so around the foundation stage. We have put a lot of emphasis on special educational needs and there is some really interesting work going on there. Every setting now must have an SEN policy. Every setting must have an SEN co-ordinator who will have three days' annual training by 2004, and we are going to have SENCO advisers for every 20 settings in place. There we agreed, and I announced that in the SEN Disability Bill, that we are looking there with special educational needs at the under-twos even. We have now got an advisory group that is looking at children from birth through till two to see, if you get a very early identification of a child's needs, how you can respond between health, social services and education to ensure that you really put in place the proper support, including educational support, so that the child reaches its full potential. The other thing is the senior Early Years practitioner; we are quite excited by that, which is the new qualification that we are developing where we want a total of a thousand to have achieved that by 2004 or to have progressed through to qualified teacher status, with some more perhaps going into health and social work. We are doing some training around leadership which has come out as crucial, particularly in the Early Excellence Centre and Early Excellence analysis, and we hope to have a leadership qualification—it might be a head teachers' qualification—in place in the not too distant future. It is being piloted at the moment by Margy Whalley at Pen Green.

  108. That sounds incredibly exciting, and so I wonder why I have had NNEBs coming to me disgruntled. The concern of one in particular was that her qualification was not recognised by the census. She felt devalued and, I suspect, a little de-motivated. What would you say to NNEBs who see themselves as the first Early Years professionals in terms of what the Government is doing for them and whether they should feel devalued? Some of these would have qualified 20 years ago and others may have qualified more recently.
  (Ms Hodge) There are 16 qualifications now in the framework. That is that from 1,600 we have reduced to 16, so that makes much better sense, both for employers and for students. The NNEB is in there. It is just re-named and re-classified, so it is not that they are not recognised.

  109. What are they re-named as?
  (Ms Hodge) I cannot remember. Level 3 qualification; I just cannot remember the actual name. Nursery nurses are feeling edgy and what I try and reassure them of is that as we expand the sector the opportunities grow. As we introduce our teaching assistants into schools the opportunities grow. As we provide the routes to further qualifications the opportunities grow.

  110. One of the issues is, and you mentioned—
  (Ms Hodge) They want to stay as a nursery nurse.

  111. You mentioned teaching assistants. I think I would be right in saying that they believe that they have particular qualities that they are not just looking at teaching, they are looking at the holistic view of the child coming into to a nursery or an education setting, and that to suggest that they train as teachers reinforces the view that they are under-valued and therefore they want their own qualities to be recognised. The issue for me is how can we ensure that people who have got NNEB qualifications, who may be outside child care at the moment, fit into this new ladder of qualifications while they are still in other jobs? I think it is quite difficult for mature entrants into the sector who may still be on low pay to have the time off to do the training to get them into the sector?
  (Ms Hodge) That is why we have provided a modular route. Where we will be at very shortly is that this new higher professional qualification will count as 240 CATs points, so that knocks two years off a higher education degree. Then either you go through the registered teachers' programme or you go on and do a degree. We are talking to a number of higher education institutions who are working with us to see that as a route through to higher education, so it is not a question of coming out of work. I have to say, which is perhaps a slightly tough message to nursery nurses, that they are recognised, they are valued, they are important, but the qualification level they achieve and the qualification level that a teacher has is different and that is reflected in salary. What we are trying to do is provide the routes through to enable them to go up the climbing frame, as I call it, rather than the ladder, if they want to do so. That is their choice, but if they want to remain as a nursery nurse they have done a different amount of training than a teacher has.

  112. Do you believe that we will not get men into the sector until we improve the pay and conditions of the sector?
  (Ms Hodge) The interesting thing is that we have been incredibly successful. We are the second fastest growing sector in the labour market. We have run this advertising campaign where we have had something like 64,000 responses, and Alan will correct me if I am wrong.

  113. What is the gender balance in that?
  (Ms Hodge) There are only two per cent of men working in the sector. Eight per cent of our respondents to the advertising campaign have been men, so that is getting better. Salary levels are growing. In the discussions we are having with a number of private nursery providers to do the 900 Neighbourhood Nurseries you are talking about somebody running a nursery probably earning in the region of £35,000-£40,000. That is much higher than it would have been five years ago.


  114. Yes, but, Minister, we had Richard Dorrance give evidence to us last week where he has been Chief Executive of the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education, and he did say, and I quote him: "I do not think the sector could cope with more—but if you are over 23 and you have been working in the sector for five/six years and you want to get a qualification, that qualification is going to cost about £1,500. You are likely to be earning under £8,000." We visited one or two pre-school settings in the private sector catering to workers in the City, just down the road here. Yes, they were being well paid. They are almost a beacon setting in terms of what I would like to see and members of this Committee would like to see, a well organised setting, well paid head, well paid staff. The people who gave evidence last week said, "We are paying £7,000 a year". What sort of country are we that pays the people that look after our children at this most delicate and important stage £7,000 a year? We must as a Government surely do something to raise the level of qualification and, essentially, pay.
  (Ms Hodge) I think we are doing something. First of all, we are investing £61 million to support low paid child care workers to access their training and that is entirely around access. The costs of getting your NVQ will be met out of those monies that are available for access. The second thing is that when you do raise the qualifications levels inevitably you do raise the salary that goes with it. The balance we need to strike is between raising salary levels and retaining affordable child care. I was very pleased that the Chancellor responded to our representations and others in the Budget recently by raising the child care tax credit levels quite considerably so that you can now get 70 per cent of £135 towards your child care costs for one child to 70 per cent of £200 for two children. That sort of level begins to reflect the sort of salaries that we want to pay for higher quality care. I think this is going to take time, Chairman. It is not going to move overnight. All those elements are moving in the right direction. I would say that this is perhaps what the Helen Penn provision would be: shovel zillions in. If we had zillions we could raise salary levels faster, but we are having massive growth and responding on all these fronts to providing a really solid infra structure.

Helen Jones

  115. Can I just come back to that because, whilst much of what you are saying to us is very interesting and I think something which we would all support as a Committee, I am still rather concerned by the fact that the strategy appears to be that as people raise their qualifications their ultimate aim is to become teachers. Ought we not to be ensuring that we have dedicated child care workers who are well paid and who may not necessarily wish to become teachers? It is a different skill and actually valuing that as a skill and paying it appropriately. We will not retain people for long in the sector, will we, unless they are properly paid?
  (Ms Hodge) That is why we have got the senior Early Years practitioner qualification that we are developing entirely to support that. That is why Early Years degrees are growing in the HE sector all over the place. I have got a daughter doing one. We are growing a new profession, but you do not grow it overnight.

  116. Can you tell us what monitoring of the sector you have? You have referred to people earning £35,000 a year but that is extremely rare, is it not, still at the moment?
  (Ms Hodge) We do a workforce survey. We did our last one in 1998. We are in the middle of doing the current one, the results of which will be out in a few months. We do monitor it regularly, literally 1998 was the last one and 2001 will be out, I imagine, probably by the autumn.

  117. You referred in the response to our report that the Government is keeping under review pay and conditions, but also, understandably, the new structure accept that they are outside the Government's remit. How can you keep them under review if they are outside the remit? How can you take sensible decisions on funding and development without taking into account pay and conditions?
  (Ms Hodge) Salary levels are negotiated locally. Very often they are negotiated between a parent and a child carer, so we do not want to interfere with that. I think it would not be appropriate for us to get involved in those sorts of negotiations. Quite a lot are negotiated at local education authority level. The fact that we worked quite hard to convince the Chancellor to raise the working families tax credit levels demonstrates our sensitivity to what is happening both to salary levels and therefore charges, because the two are closely correlated, and we will continue to do that. I suppose one other factor that I have not mentioned is the money we are putting in through the Nursery Education Fund is massive and that also gives play groups, pre-schools, resources to then increase the pay that they can offer to their workers. We are taking action on all fronts. Other than having a sudden 300 per cent increase in salary levels funded out of the taxpayer, I think we are acting sensibly.


  118. But Helen was pushing you on the monitoring.
  (Ms Hodge) We do that through the workforce survey.

  119. Has there been any encouragement for almost a beacon setting in each Early Years Partnership, almost a model that people who aspire to that could go to and have the notion of a beacon setting in which people are well paid, where it is well managed, where all the best elements are there? One of the things about driving up pay is just to see what it is like when people are properly trained, properly qualified, properly rewarded and whether that would suffuse the system, okay, again along a pragmatic line but actually would raise the general level?
  (Ms Hodge) Early Excellence Centres, which I think are one of the success stories.

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