Memorandum submitted by Barbara Riddell
The Myth of the Level Playing Field
1. The Childcare Act 2006 effectively marked the end of a distinction between childcare and education. The language has changed. The dominant terms are childcare market and providers; not education and schools. This is a fundamental shift. The concept of the specialist nursery school and nursery teacher is disappearing. The consequences of this loss are profound and will damage the early years sector as a whole.
2. The Early Years Foundation stage curriculum applies to all settings though it is taught by staff whose qualifications range from NVQ Level 1/2 to qualified teachers with advanced degrees. OFSTED inspect all settings (although the inspection frameworks for schools and daycare are still significantly different)
3. If every child in every setting is exposed to the same curriculum this implies that every child's experience will be broadly similar. It must surely follow that a single funding formula should apply to all settings. This is the myth.
4. The educational experience is very different. Of course there are exemplary nurseries in every sector but the OFSTED data is persuasive.
5. Ofsted's 2005-2008 review of all childcare and early years settings, excluding maintained schools revealed that only 3% were judged outstanding, and 57% were good. Quality was poorer in disdvantaged areas (In the thirty areas of greatest disadvantage only 54% of day care groups provided good or better childcare, compared with 63% in the rest of the country).
6. In 2007/8 the Chief Inspector of Schools noted that "nursery schools are particularly effective. 96% of those inspected are good or outstanding." 47% of maintained nursery schools were judged outstanding.
7. OFSTED is important but there are other indices of quality and other evidence that nursery schools offer a different educational experience. EPPE, the government's own longitudinal study of comparative effectiveness of early years settings found that maintained nursery schools have the greatest impact on children's intellectual and social development and their subsequent progress in school. The most significant factors are, unsurprisingly, the qualifications of the staff, their specialist knowledge and skills and their consistent ways of teaching young children which have been found to be particularly effective.
8. The Childcare and Early Years Providers Survey 2008 survey recently published by the DCSF records that only 2% of staff in childcare settings were qualified teachers. Only 5% of staff in childcare and 4% in sessional care (mainly playgroups) were qualified to degree level In Nursery Schools 31% of staff are at Level 6.
9. Nursery Schools are headed by qualified teachers but in the childcare sector most nursery managers are still only qualified to NVQ Level 3.
10. Age is not an index of the quality of staff but it does reflect experience. In daycare settings 30% of staff are under 25. In Nursery Schools 5% of staff are under 25.
11. Staff turnover is also important in securing quality. In daycare settings there is an annual turnover of 16%. In Nursery Schools the figure is 6%.
12. There are differences too in the range of children who attend nursery schools. Nursery schools have admissions policies determined by their local authorities. They give priority to children in medical and social need.
13. The DCSF survey statistics confirm this. 47% of nursery schools have at least 11% of children with special educational needs (SEN). 5% of daycare settings have at least 11% of children with SEN. PVI settings are not required to have such admissions policies. Children are generally admitted on the basis of their parents' ability to pay the fees.
14. Children with a wide range of learning and behavioural difficulties require specialist support. This is typically long-established in nursery schools. Nursery schools also have a particular expertise in the teaching of young bi-lingual children. 33% of children in nursery schools are from a BME background. The figures for daycare and sessional nurseries are 15% and 11%
of Nursery Schools are in the 30% most disadvantaged areas of
16. The myth of the Single Funding formula is that it is reasonable to apply the same basic funding mechanism to such fundamentally different kinds of institution. A school is properly constrained by education law; teachers pay and conditions and local authority scales for staff. PVI nurseries have different constraints but it is impossible to ignore the evidence. Lower qualifications and salaries, higher staff turnover and the pressure of profitability inevitably affect quality. Additional funding for PVI nurseries may well, in the longer term, raise standards but this must not be at the expense of those nurseries that are already of proven quality.
17. The best PVI nurseries (with the highest level of fees) may well justify higher rates of funding based on their costs. However it is inevitable that the richest families are likely to be the beneficiaries.
18. There are other consequences of funding all nursery education as if it were child care. It is possible under the new guidance for a three year old to attend nursery for as many as 10 hours in a single day. This assumes that their learning and social development can be compressed in this way. Secondary school children have much shorter school days.
19 A further consequence of the formula will be the loss of full time places (25 hours a week) in those many nursery schools where they are provided.
20 The interpretation of the Single Funding Formula varies sharply between authorities. In some the suggested hourly rate for childminders is higher than that for outstanding nursery schools.
Some local authorities are clear that the new funding formula should not damage their nursery schools. In many others such clear commitment is not evident and nursery schools stand to lose substantial elements of their budget. They will lose teachers, lose experienced teams and lose the capacity to train and support other early years staff from all sectors. The best model of early education will become extinct. This cannot be the intention of a government whose expressed aim is to improve the educational and life chances of children who live in poverty.