Clause 3 - Discharging the section 2(1) duty

Childcare Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 8 December 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education) 3:45, 8 December 2015

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 3, page 3, line 14, at end insert—

“(ba) make provision about determining and auditing the appropriate qualifications to be held by staff providing childcare for the purposes of this Act, including in relation to staff providing childcare for qualifying children with disabilities.”

This amendment would require Government to set out the qualifications that staff would be required to have or acquire when providing childcare for disabled children for the purposes of this Act.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 1—Workforce qualifications—

‘(1) For the purposes of securing childcare under section 2, the Secretary of State must, within six months of section 2 coming into force, lay a report before both Houses of Parliament setting out her proposals for developing the early years workforce.

(2) The report mentioned in subsection (2)(1) must include, in particular,—

(a) a target for the proportion of children who receive early education and/or childcare directly led by an early years graduate;

(b) a target for the proportion of staff in the early years workforce who have a relevant level 3 qualification; and

(c) the timescale within which the Government will seek to meet these targets.”

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

This morning I spoke briefly about the shortage of qualified staff in the workforce—I think I was ruled out of order at least three times, but now is my time—and how that is a risk to the Government’s policy of expansion of free childcare. The House of Lords Affordable Childcare Committee demonstrated that the existing scheme of 15 free hours is being run at a loss in most private, voluntary and independent settings. It is cross-subsidised by the incredibly complicated system that currently exists.

I have previously discussed the future costs of childcare that were not considered in the Government’s childcare review, which begins by telling us that

“the market is healthy, and has grown in recent years.”

It goes on to tell us that

“there is currently sufficient supply available to the majority of parents”,

yet local authorities freely acknowledge that they have insufficient supply in their areas and the House of Commons Library tells us that we have 44,000 fewer childcare places today than we had in 2009.

Putting our disagreements over the funding gaps to one side for the moment, perhaps the biggest threats to expansion in the childcare sector are the issues around workforce capacity. Childcare providers report that they are already finding it incredibly difficult to recruit well-qualified and experienced staff to deliver the existing 15 hours. Parents of disabled children tell us that the cost of and access to childcare for their children is a big problem. Most providers do not have the trained staff that they need to ensure the future development and safety of children.

Part of the difficulty that providers have in recruiting suitably qualified staff—let alone those with the qualifications and skills to support disabled children’s  learning—is competition with the maintained sector, which is able to offer higher rates of pay and term-time-only contracts. Given the fact that 61% of nurseries and childcare providers are in the private and voluntary sector, there is a serious danger of the majority of that provision becoming second-class, with children having less access to good-quality and experienced staff and a further gulf opening up between the children of those parents who can access 30 hours of quality childcare in the maintained sector and the rest.

This morning, I spoke briefly about the chief inspector’s report and the experience I have had and outcomes I have seen as a member of the Education Committee. There are clear links between the quality of the provision—the quality of the staff and their qualifications—and the outcomes from children. We accept that in the maintained sector, because there is a lot of access to qualified teachers, graduates and so on, and because almost all the staff will be at least level 3 qualified, it is a natural correlation that it will have better quality provision if things remain as they are and if something is not done about the lack of qualified staff in the PVI sector.

The Minister has acknowledged that the pattern of use of childcare provision is not flat across the week, while most provision runs at between 75% and 90% capacity. As we have heard, there is much less take-up on Mondays and Friday than on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I am advised that most settings would struggle to increase their offer from 15 to 30 hours for children who are not disabled because they do not have the space, because they cannot recruit the qualified level 3 staff they need and because they do not have the provision to offer meals in the middle of the day. Many children coming for 15 hours go home at lunchtime, when another group of children come for their 15 hours. If those children stay for 30 hours a week, there will have to be provision for offering meals in the middle of the day, and many of these settings tell me that they cannot do that.

The voluntary sector is a major sector, and it is operating out of church halls. If provision is to be extended to 30 hours, we would have to take account of those who would be displaced. It is not just about meals in the middle of the day; it is about old people’s luncheon clubs, the Mothers Union and keep-fit classes that will be displaced if 30 hours of childcare is offered. The providers tell me that they cannot offer 30 hours because they can not offer meals in the middle of the day, but they also do not want to put out all the other users of the premises.

Outside of funding, the biggest concern is the lack of capacity in the workforce. I realise that this is one part of the Department for Education operating separately from another, which happened an awful lot even in my day, but the Government have required that an outcome of any level 3 training is that staff will have a GCSE in both English and maths at grade C or above. Although we all agree that it is a good thing for staff to be qualified, by clinging to their insistence on GCSE grade C for students who have already failed that qualification after two years of study at school, the Government are going against the recommendations of both the sector and the Education Committee. The Education Committee considered the matter carefully in relation to apprenticeships in general and found that a qualification of the same difficulty and quality, such as functional skills in numeracy and literacy, was a much better and more practical way  of ensuring that people completing such qualifications are both literate and numerate without forcing apprentices down a route that they have already failed.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way in this important debate. I am glad that we are making progress. Having started the day by saying that the Government were dumbing down quality, she is now criticising us for setting the quality bar too high on GCSE literacy and numeracy.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister is being cynical. Does he really think that GCSE grade C in English and maths is setting the bar too high? It is not that. It is about being practical. I will explain the implications of the Government’s decision. These students are not 16 or 14, or whatever; they are apprentices working in the childcare sector, or hoping to work in the childcare sector. They have already failed, and all the evidence I saw on the Education Committee showed that functional skills in numeracy and literacy are not easier than GCSE; they are just different and more practical for the world of work.

By refusing to listen, the Government are adding to the crisis in the workforce. There has been an 80% reduction in recruitment for level 3 childcare courses and a 56% shortfall in new applicants since the new GCSE requirement was imposed—in a sector that is desperate for qualified staff. If the GCSE requirement is stopping students going into this sector, and if it is stopping them training when we already have a shortfall of qualified staff for 15 hours, how will the Government square the circle for 30 hours?

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I hope the hon. Lady is aware that one of the things I have done that was welcomed by the sector was to make the GCSE English and maths requirement one on exit, rather than on entry. The requirement is not stopping anyone getting on to a childcare course; they just need to satisfy the requirement by the time they finish the course. I believe that was welcomed by the sector.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

I understand that and welcome it, but equally, we cannot get away from the facts. Whether it is at the beginning or the end of the course, it is clearly putting off students. If there has been a 56% fall in new applicants since the introduction of the GCSE requirement to replace functional skills and there was no argument, as I understand, that students were coming out who were not literate or numerate, the Government must recognise that the requirement may well be part of the problem rather than of the solution.

The situation has not been helped by the Government’s lack of a workforce strategy, although I think that we may be inching towards one; I will wait to see what the Minister says. It was not helpful that the previous Minister tried to change ratios, and then changed her mind and forged ahead with the graduate early-years qualification, which did not have qualified teacher status. Those chop-and-change policies brought her into conflict with the sector and others, including the Education Committee. We have been proved right on that. I understand that to date, the course for early-years graduates, which offers 2,000 places, has recruited about 800, and that the numbers recruited have fallen year on year since it was implemented. I know that such things are not within the Minister’s gift, but in his discussions with the Secretary of State, he needs to point out that they are not helping in a sector that is already struggling to get qualified staff.

The amendment would require the Government to set out what qualifications staff are expected to have or require when providing childcare for disabled children for the purposes of the Bill. I remind the Committee of what I have already said: more than one third of parents, 38%, who were unable to access their entitlement of 15 hours of free childcare said that it was because they did not think that the childcare provider could provide for their children safely, and 30% did not think that the provider had adequately trained staff. One quarter said that the nursery or carer had refused a place exclusively on the grounds of their child’s disability.

I have talked to the Committee about my experience that it is not simply a question of training or even money. In many cases, it is about confidence. Once providers have had some training and support, they feel more confident opening up to more significant difficulties. I welcome the Minister’s offer to work with me to explore the issue, and I ask that the qualifications for providers form part of that offer.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I join others in taking pleasure in serving under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. My remarks will cover new clause 1, which stands in my name and seeks to address workforce qualifications across the childcare sector. Ultimately, for me, it is about the reassurance that parents need that their children are being cared for by professional people, not just to aid their children’s development but to put them in the safest possible hands. That is no reflection on the people who work in the industry, or the service as we call it today. They do a tremendous job generally, but I believe that they, like everybody else, should have continuing professional development.

We all know that there is a clear link between the level of practitioner qualification, the quality of early education and childcare and the outcomes for young children. Just as individual practitioner qualification is important, so are the leadership skills of the people running the establishment. Just as in schools we know that a top-class headteacher and management team can often make the difference between a school being considered excellent or found to be inadequate, there is substantial evidence that early education and childcare have a positive effect on children’s development, particularly for boys and children from low-income families, who are more likely to fall behind early. We need some of the best people caring for our youngest children.

At the same time, there is strong evidence that early language skills provide a solid foundation for school readiness, with strong links to learning to read, attainment in English and maths, earnings potential in adulthood and wider outcomes, including better mental health. Furthermore, high-quality early education, specifically nursery led by graduate early years teachers, has the most significant impact on the early language skills of young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to fall behind. Figures show that, for instance, one in five children, including more than a third of the poorest, are not school ready because they fail to meet the expected level of early language development by the age of five. That equates to almost 130,000 children finishing their reception year in 2015 without achieving the expected level of language skills.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

In those circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman think it appropriate for the teacher to have a GCSE grade C in English and maths?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00, 8 December 2015

Sorry, I think that was a minimum qualification. I want to see continual professional development. As I have stressed time and again, the higher the qualification, the better the outcome for children.

Children growing up in poverty are, on average, 15 months behind in vocabulary development at the age of five compared with their peers, and those eligible for free school meals are 75% less likely to reach the expected standard of language and communication than their peers at the age of five.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire was pointing to a contradiction in the Opposition’s position. Their Front-Bench spokesman said that insisting on GCSE maths and English rather than focusing on functional skills might be making things more difficult. The hon. Member for Stockton North seems to be arguing for even more stringent qualification criteria. The Government believe that, given that qualifications are the biggest determinant of the quality of the interaction with the child, it is right that we set them where they are.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not think there is any difference between me and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham. We both believe that we should be driving up quality and we both believe that we should see qualifications driven up.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

There is no difference. The difference between us and Government Members is that we understand the different levels of the staff working in childcare. It is absolutely right that teachers will have a GCSE at grade C in maths and English. They need it to matriculate. They cannot get on the course without it. I was talking about level 3 staff who would be working under the direction of a graduate leader in the nursery or a teacher. That is completely different.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Exactly. I hope that that clarification helps the Minister and others. The issue is leadership and different qualifications within the workforce in any one setting.

Despite knowledge of the failure of people in poverty and the 75% of children who are less likely to have the expected standard in language and communication at the age of five, we have seen childcare in England failing to meet the quality standards necessary to improve the outcomes for those children. Only if early education and childcare is of the highest quality and delivered by well qualified staff will there be a positive impact on children’s learning and development, which will help to narrow the gap in attainment for the most disadvantaged. My new clause would provide the Government with the power and the responsibility to ensure that children are cared for and stimulated by a highly qualified workforce.

Ofsted grades are not just a stand-alone proxy for the standard, because the inspection framework does not capture all the elements of quality that are predictive of outcomes for children. Evidence shows that, to ensure  that the free offer meets its primary intended purpose of improving outcomes for children, the Government should focus on delivering high-quality, graduate-led care from the age of two to school age through a qualified and well supported early years workforce.

We had a debate earlier today about the needs of disabled children and the specific training that people need. I hope that the Minister will address that when he talks about the workforce and how we can ensure that the people in our nurseries have the necessary qualifications and experience to deal with a whole range of disabilities in the children who come their way.

Back in 2012, the coalition Government commissioned Professor Cathy Nutbrown to undertake an independent review of early years workforce qualifications. Her findings recommended that, if the Government set out a 10-year plan to move to a fully qualified early years workforce and increased the proportion of settings led by a graduate, it would have the greatest measurable impact on children’s outcomes. However, the coalition did not take a lead on that, nor does the Bill.

The quality of childcare is gradually improving, but there are still insufficient high-quality, free places for three and four-year olds, and disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

The hon. Gentleman should read my speech on childcare. He would see that we agree on a lot, and in fact some of the lines are very similar. Does he agree that we could achieve what he intends in his new clause with encouragement from the Government rather than the straitjacket of legislation?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am pleased that we can agree on much that was in my speech. I cannot understand what the problem is with requiring people to have qualifications. If you want to be an engineer, you are required to get an engineering degree. I think that if you are required to lead the best-quality care, perhaps you need some form of graduate qualification in childcare, or something associated with it. Of course, we face the possibility that we will have children attending poor-quality settings where they will be unable to access provision that meets their individual needs. This is why new clause 1 would require the Government to publish proposals for the development of the early years workforce to ensure that all three and four-year-olds receive access to high-quality, flexible and accessible early education and childcare provision, delivered by those well qualified, confident and experienced practitioners, and led by that early years graduate.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I want to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to what is actually happening on the ground, as far as the quality of the workforce is concerned. The number of graduates in the workforce continues to rise. Between 2008 and 2013, the proportion of full day care staff with a degree or higher increased from 5% to 13%. The National Day Nurseries Association June 2015 survey showed that 88% of centres employ a graduate early years teacher. Since 2007, 16,159 individuals have achieved early years professional status.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That, Mr Hanson, is tremendously good news for the childcare sector, there is no doubt about it, but it is not good enough. We are looking at a situation in which there will be a demand for increased provision, yet we have insufficient people coming through  the system to fulfil those roles in the future. To my mind, it is clear that the expansion of free childcare requires that we first invest in the very people and infrastructure standing behind it. The Minister just talked at length about the fact that people are getting better in the situation, but we still have this tremendous gap, particularly if we are to provide everything that he wants us to provide.

This amendment would set the Secretary of State the achievable target of laying a report before both Houses within six months of the Act coming into effect, setting out how the Department intends to support such development of the early years workforce. I cannot understand how there can be a problem with that. All we are asking is: what are the Government’s plans? How are we going to see development happen in the future? The report should specifically include targets for increasing the number of practitioners holding level 3 qualifications and the proportion of children receiving early education and childcare led directly by an early years graduate.

The requirement for teaching qualifications has made the headlines over the past few years. Indeed, we all know that Labour committed, before the general election, to ensure that all teachers in all maintained schools should become qualified and continue to expand and strengthen their qualifications through high-quality professional development. As a former member of the Education Committee, I have considered the need for qualified and competent teachers in detail. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham shares my interest in this subject.

With a background focused on children and young people at local authority level, I have witnessed at first hand the importance of education and education policies —as a route into work, a means to attaining personal potential, a mode of better understanding the world we live in, or simply the quenching of a thirst for knowledge. Education is a powerful tool for young people of all ages and provides the foundations on which the future of our country sits, but with this power comes a concomitant responsibility, and that responsibility rests ultimately with those who motivate, inform and inspire our young people. That is why we must take steps to ensure that our education system is designed to deliver the skills and knowledge that the young people of today will need to succeed tomorrow. The crucial requirement of this is making sure that our teachers—their teachers—are fully equipped to do the job. That is the crux of the matter.

The thinking behind new clause 1 is remarkably simple. At its core, it is inspired by the aspiration for our children and young people to have the best possible start in life, and it is informed by the evidence confirming that good quality early education can have a range of benefits for children’s early development. Research indicates that the benefits of such early education extend beyond the early years and right through primary school, adding further weight to the case for mandating qualifications for early years teachers. For example, the “Effective Provision of Pre-School Education” study has shown that children who attend good-quality childcare settings are, on average, seven months ahead in literacy skills, compared with their peers who did not attend pre-school, when starting school. The development that takes place during those early years is crucial and forms the foundations on which all later learning is built. It is, therefore,  essential that we equip early years education staff with the skills that they need to support children’s early development and to ensure that no child falls behind before they even reach primary school.

The ramifications for children who start to fall behind in key areas such as early language development are, too often, lifelong, and they affect not only those children’s educational attainment but their future life chances. We face the sorry reality of knowing that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely than others to fall behind. One in four children in England arrives at primary school without good early language development, and that figure rises to one in three for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who, as I have mentioned, start school an average of 15 months behind their peers in language and vocabulary.

I am clear that the only route to resolving that unacceptable situation, and to righting the inequality of opportunity that many children and young people grow up facing, is to level the playing field from the outset. Research shows that a well-qualified, confident and experienced workforce are central to the delivery of childcare that improves outcomes for young children. Indeed, the Department for Education went so far as to recognise in its policy statement on the Bill:

“The main driver of quality in a setting is its workforce.”

If those arguments are not already compelling enough, Ofsted has identified that settings in which at least 75% of practitioners are qualified to level 3 achieve better inspection results. A further analysis of private, voluntary and independent sector settings against Ofsted ratings also found a direct link between graduate-led settings and better Ofsted ratings, which demonstrates that graduate-led settings reduced the quality gap in provision in the least and most deprived areas.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 79% of settings in disadvantaged areas are now rated good or outstanding? Of course, there is still room for improvement, but that is a tremendous statistic.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a tremendous statistic, but, as the Minister says, there is always room for improvement. It is important that we maintain high quality and that we have continuing professional development for everybody so that they can keep their skills up to date and maintain the outstanding outcomes that he has alluded to.

The analysis shows a gap of 10 percentage points in the quality of childcare provision between non-graduate-led settings in the least and most deprived areas. However, when examining settings led by graduates, the research found almost no difference between the quality of provision in the least and most deprived areas. That is a crucial finding, not least because evidence shows that children who grow up in the most disadvantaged areas are least likely to attend a private, voluntary or independent sector setting with a graduate compared with their peers in better-off areas. To top it off, evaluation of the graduate leader fund adds further evidence to the extensive stock showing that settings that employ a graduate leader improve the quality of provision compared with settings that do not, with the findings confirming that employing an early years graduate is a key way of raising the quality of provision in a childcare setting. Further analysis of the graduate leader fund highlights  that settings employing a graduate made significant improvements for pre-school children, not just in overall quality of provision but in other key areas such as child-staff interaction, support for children’s communication, language and literacy development, and supporting reasoning, thinking and scientific skills. The Minister’s last intervention demonstrated that that is very much the case.

It appears to be irrefutable that high-quality childcare has a range of benefits for all children, and for disadvantaged children in particular. What is more, the research also shows that there is added value beyond the school gates in supporting those children’s development, reducing the risk of behavioural issues and even supporting parents in the home. We must recognise the challenges that are likely to be faced in delivering such a commitment. Government figures suggest that 600,000 families will be eligible for the 30-hour offer. Providing sufficient places will clearly pose new challenges for the early years system, and many providers will have to be supported to extend their offer if all eligible parents are to be able to access the 30-hour offer.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Based on the eligibility criteria from the spending review, 390,000 families will be eligible for the offer. There are four-year-olds who are in reception year and therefore are not entitled to the offer for three and four-year-olds.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15, 8 December 2015

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification. On top of this, we must factor in the need for highly qualified and experienced graduates if we are to deliver the high-quality childcare that we need so much. I bear in mind everything that the Minister said, but 20-odd per cent of providers still do not have any graduate leadership. We need to build on that. On the effectiveness of the expansion—it is an expansion—we are going to need more people in the system. The expansion of free childcare will be dependent on ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of highly qualified and experienced staff to work directly with all three and four-year-olds.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there will be an expansion. We welcome that; it is the purpose of the policy. It is also worth stating that although we are doubling the entitlement, we are not necessarily doubling the demand. A number of children in the system are already doing 15-plus hours instead of 30 hours. Therefore, the need that he has identified might not be as great as he thinks it is.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To the best of my knowledge, we have not actually quantified what the total need is. That is one of the reasons we had the debate on clause 1, which has now been ditched by the Committee. We want to review and understand exactly what provision will be needed. I do not think that is particularly clear.

Currently, a significant proportion of practitioners do not hold a level 3 qualification—the minimum recommended by the Nutbrown review. Roughly a third of childminders, 50% of nursery staff and only 13% of staff in private, voluntary and independent settings currently have a graduate level qualification, compared with as many as 40% in maintained settings. I accept  that that will take some time to address. I hope new clause 1 reflects that by allowing some flexibility in setting the targets for the proportion of staff in the early years workforce to have that relevant level 3 qualification and in setting the timescale in which the Government will seek to meet those targets. However, at the same time as including measures to enhance standards, we must do more to boost the status of early years teaching to attract the very best, brightest and most able into the profession.

I understand that some 15,962 individuals have achieved early years professional status and early years teacher status. Since the start of early years initial teacher training in September 2013, 3,206 trainees have been trained, of whom 2,358 have graduated and been awarded early years teacher status. Should we not celebrate that? Of course we should, but in 2014-15 only 860 applicants started funded places. That is quite a reduction—1,467 down on the intake of 2,327 applicants in 2013-14, and 1,140 applicants short of the 2,000 target set for 2014-15. I would like to know what the Minister will do about boosting those numbers and meeting his Department’s targets.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

Yesterday, I learned that there are 23 different ways of getting into the teaching profession. Would the hon. Gentleman agree with me that there could be lots of different routes to get into childcare? Some people might want to start at low levels and graduate while they are still working in childcare provision.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that people should have the opportunities to start jobs—all sorts of roles—in different ways. I believe very much in that but the Government are making it even more difficult for applicants to come into this role. The reason that we are seeing the fall is largely connected to the debate about pay and the status of early years teachers compared with applicants in programmes granting qualified teacher status.

Childcare workers in England are some of the lowest paid workers in Europe. The average salary of a supervisor in 2011 was just over £16,000 compared with an average of £22,000 in Finland, £23,000 in France and £28,000 in Germany. In private, voluntary and independent settings, non-managerial or supervisory staff are paid, on average, £6.80 an hour in full-day care settings and £8.60 in sessional settings.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I hope, given the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the low level of wages in the sector, that he will welcome the new national living wage introduced by the Government.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I would welcome the new national living wage if it were the actual living wage. It is important to drive up wages across all sectors and I especially welcome it in this particular setting. The evidence suggests that if a setting is graduate led there is an impact on pay. In 2013, in graduate-led settings the average hourly pay of staff in full-day care settings was £8.70, compared with £8.20 in non-graduate-led settings. In sessional settings led by graduates, the average hourly pay was £9.80, compared with £8.20 in non-graduate-led settings. It can be little wonder that low pay is frequently cited as a key challenge to recruiting and retaining graduate-level staff. That makes me fear that more needs to be done to attract new entrants and to retain experienced practitioners.

I hope that the proposals in new clause 1 would allow the Government sufficient leeway to design measures to ensure enough well-qualified and experienced staff to deliver free early education and childcare and to make certain that that is of high quality. I see no reason why the Government should not have sufficient scope to put in place measures that would also offer to support practitioners to work towards a level 3 qualification to increase the number of settings that are graduate led. As I have mentioned, the Department has already recognised in its policy statement on the Bill that the workforce is the main driver of quality. I hope that the Minister will support new clause 1 as the means to optimise such quality and to maximise the opportunities for our children and young people—after all, that is what we are here to talk about.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The debate on the amendment and new clause 1 is important because it concerns the quality in early years education.

As the father of a 20-month-old who is in a full-day care setting, in common with all parents I want my child to be in a safe and secure environment, looked after by people who are well qualified and know what they are doing. I am therefore grateful to the hon. Members for Stockton North, for North West Durham and for Birmingham, Yardley for raising the important issue of the qualifications of the workforce and the impact on the care and early education of the young children involved, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.

The hon. Member for North West Durham has specialist knowledge about provision for disabled children. She most expertly deployed that knowledge and her commitment to ensure that all children should have access to quality care in her role as the co-chair of the parliamentary inquiry into childcare for disabled children.

I support the purpose of the amendments. I agree that the quality of the workforce is a vital ingredient in providing good-quality early education and care to meet the needs of all children, including those with SEN. The experiences of children in childcare settings are shaped by their interactions with staff, so it is critical that staff are suitably qualified and skilled.

I hope that it will be helpful if I set out the existing requirements for staff qualifications under secondary legislation. In recognition of the fact that the qualification levels of staff affect the experiences of children in early education and childcare settings, the early years foundation stage framework sets out minimum qualification levels. Those qualification requirements make up part of the staff-to-child ratios. I have already confirmed on Second Reading and in speeches outside the House that we are not changing ratios or qualification requirements to deliver the 30-hour entitlement.

The qualification level of the early years workforce has risen in recent years. Continuing this increase has been a key aim of the Government’s workforce strategy through the introduction of early years educator qualifications at level 3, and early years initial teacher training. Research tells us that in group day-care settings, 87% of the workforce have a relevant qualification at level 3—that should be welcomed. Indeed, many of the workforce are qualified at graduate level. Since 2007, more than 16,000 individuals have achieved the specialised qualifications of early years professional status and early years teacher status.

Moreover, the inspection framework carried out by Ofsted is clearly focused on children’s outcomes and the quality of teaching and learning in the early years. Providers are showing the arrangements they have in place for staff supervision and professional development that then drive high-quality interactions with children. Ofsted’s new common inspection framework is also bringing more consistency to its inspection approach across early years providers and schools. The latest outcome statistics, at August 2015, show that 85% of providers on the early years register were rated good or outstanding for overall effectiveness.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that this is not out of order, but I have to be elsewhere on Front-Bench duties, so I want to say that I appreciated the explanations given by the Minister in his many interventions during my speech and I do not intend to press new clause 1 to a vote.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

For information, whether the hon. Gentleman is here or not, new clause 1 would not be voted until the end of the Bill.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling new clause 1, and I understand that he has other duties. I will carry on setting out our argument on the workforce strategy, which he can follow in Hansard, in his absence.

Despite the good indications of progress so far, we cannot be complacent. For example, members of the sector have told me that some childcare businesses are having difficulty attracting and retaining staff at level 3. I have asked the sector to provide evidence of that, and I am committed to working with them to understand the challenges and to find ways to tackle them while ensuring that a quality workforce remains.

Many comments have been made about why the Department has insisted on GCSE English and maths on exit and about whether that is having an impact on people getting their level 3 qualifications. I see maths and English, the two most important vocational subjects, as a requirement for any job. Functional skills, which the hon. Member for North West Durham specifically asked about, at level 2 do not have the same breadth of content as GCSEs and are sometimes described by awarding bodies as roughly equivalent to half a GCSE, which is why we have taken our position. As I said to the sector, if evidence can be provided that that is having an impact on recruitment, I am willing to consider it. The collaborative approach has already proved successful. Over the summer, I responded to calls from the sector to amend the entry requirements for level 3 courses to enable more trainees to undertake childcare training. I am told by childcare employers that that is helping more staff access training. As Sue Robb, head of early years at 4Children, said:

“We welcome the government’s decision that apprentices can work for their childcare qualifications at the same time as studying for their GCSEs in maths and English. This will encourage more apprentices into childcare and early years.”

I have spoken previously about this, but I want to be clear that I am committed to publishing a workforce strategy that will enable staff to reach their potential  and forge a successful career in early years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South indicated in an intervention, career progression must be the central strand of any workforce strategy, which needs to consider the role of qualifications from entry level to graduate level and on-the-job training in order to attract and retain a good quality workforce. It is not only about getting people in at level 2 or level 3, but about getting the right ladders in place so that they can progress throughout their career.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North 4:30, 8 December 2015

Does the Minister agree that enterprise is an important skill in this blend? After all, this is a major opportunity for not only the maintained sector, but the private, voluntary and independent sectors. There is an opportunity here for young people, or perhaps people who are already qualified, to set up their own business.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes an excellent, important point in two respects. First, the new funding route and the associated certainty should make it attractive for new providers to enter the market and deliver childcare for working parents. Secondly, when we look at careers and career progression, we should consider that someone might start at level 2 or level 3 but then eventually start their own nursery or childcare business in another part of the country and deliver for parents. With that in mind, we need to make sure, as we look at the workforce strategy, that the opportunities are there for people to progress, fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.

The strategy will not only look at apprenticeship qualifications at levels 2 and 3 but consider how we can attract even more graduates into early years. As part of the strategy, I would like to consider how the workforce can access training and support that enables them to offer early education and care to all children, including those with special educational needs. There are already some important requirements in place regarding the individual needs of children.

To make qualification requirements have a real impact on the quality of care that children receive, it is important to make sure that they equip staff with the necessary skills to identify and meet individual needs. That is why the level 3 early years educator criteria, which are set by Government, require that trainees learn how to assess and meet needs.

The teacher standards also require early years teachers to have those skills. Early years teachers must demonstrate a clear understanding of the needs of all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, and be able to use and evaluate distinctive approaches to engage and support them. New apprenticeship standards being developed by a group of childcare employers will also take into consideration the knowledge and skills necessary to support children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Inspection obviously plays a crucial role by focusing on outcomes and reviewing how children in settings have made progress. It requires settings to demonstrate how they have assessed and met the needs of children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. That is a powerful incentive for providers to ensure that staff meet the needs of those children and meet all the requirements placed on them through secondary legislation.

Under the EYFS framework, all children are to be allocated a key person to assess and meet their needs. In addition, the “Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years” sets out clear expectations on educational institutions, including early years providers, for identifying and supporting children with SEND. The code sets out a graduated approach, which involves seeking specialist advice and intervention where appropriate.

To ensure that providers and local authorities are equipped to deliver the expectations of the new code of practice, we are funding a number of projects to better equip the early years workforce to support children with SEND. They include the National Day Nurseries Association, which will build on local systems for self-improvement through SEND champions and the excellent Pen Green centre. That centre supports a model of peer-to-peer training to help practitioners gain the knowledge and skills that they need to support children’s needs.

Funding provided to support partnerships between teaching schools and private, voluntary and independent sector providers has also enabled some good practice in supporting children with SEND. For example, Tor View school, a specialist learning community in east Lancashire, is leading a project that is helping PVI sector providers in disadvantaged areas of Burnley and Rossendale improve their support for children with SEND. SEND specialists have worked with staff so that they can more confidently identify SEND issues and provide support for children and their families.

In some cases, it will be necessary for staff to undertake specific training to support a disabled child in their care. In such circumstances, a childcare provider can ask their local authority for funding to support such training. As the individual needs of children may differ greatly, I do not think it is appropriate to set out qualification requirements for all staff working with disabled children. The Government support a personalised approach to meeting children’s needs, whereby providers, in partnership with their local authority, determine what support is needed and how it will be accessed for each individual child.

A number of other points have been raised, for example on having more graduates in the sector. For clarification, the EYFS framework is clear that trained graduates can lead settings and utilise a 1:13 ratio in doing so.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

On that point, will the Minister confirm that the EYFS framework will be the standard in the additional 15 hours?

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady asks a good question. As I have outlined, the staff to child ratios in the EYFS framework will not change between the first and second 15 hours. Nor will qualifications or space requirements. I hope that the plans I have set out and the commitments I have made to develop and publish a workforce strategy that considers career progression routes, on-the-job training, how we can attract more graduates into the sector and support for staff in meeting the individual needs of children, will reassure hon. Members that the Government share their view that a well qualified workforce is vital. In view of that, I hope that the hon. Member for North West Durham will feel reassured enough to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

I welcome the Minister’s assurance. The thinking behind the amendments was that there are clear links between qualified, well trained staff and  good outcomes. That is recognised, not least by Ofsted. There is a shortage of qualified support staff under the current provisions, and providers tell us that they are not in a position to recruit—they are struggling to recruit even for the existing 15 hours. We therefore have concerns about how that will be carried forward into the expansion of the system.

I welcome the Minister’s assurance that if the requirement of a GCSE in maths and English on exit is causing disruption in recruitment—

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education)

There appears to be evidence of that at the moment, so I welcome his assurance that he will look at that again. I was disappointed to hear him say that some awarding bodies are saying that functional skills are equal to half a GCSE. I have not heard that. They certainly did not give that evidence to the Education Committee when we looked at the matter in some detail. Providers and awarding bodies said that functional skills are different—more pragmatic in the workplace, but not easier. That was the evidence given to the Education Committee, on which we made recommendations. We are not looking to dumb down in any way, but given that we face expansion and that we are struggling to recruit qualified level 3 support staff, the Government should examine that.

As the Minister said, well trained staff are particularly important in the case of disabled children, which is the thinking behind amendment 11—we would never allow unqualified or untrained staff to work with children with disabilities in schools. Parents are telling us that part of the problem is that they cannot access the current 15 hours’ provision, and if that is the case, we need to explore that.

I heard what the Minister said about the excellent Pen Green nursery. It would be wonderful if we could reproduce Margy, her staff and Pen Green across every one of our constituencies. I strongly urge hon. Members to have a look at it, because they will want it in their constituencies.

I understand that qualifications are not the same as appropriate qualifications, which are not the same as training. They are different things. One issue I had with the Government’s policy in the previous Parliament on unqualified staff in free schools was that, although I would have qualified to teach mathematics because I have an MSc, it was not until I did a BEd that I understood things such as child development; identifying, assessing, helping and intervening with SEN; and managing behaviour. Those are the kinds of things that come through qualifications. People learn to differentiate in the curriculum and deliver a curriculum across the range of ability. They learn the science of learning, pedagogy and, almost more importantly, credibility. If a teacher does not have credibility with the parents, their colleagues and, more importantly—particularly if they are teaching in a secondary school—the children, they will quickly be sussed out. That is about not just having qualifications, but having the appropriate qualifications and training. Given that the Minister has offered to work with me in looking at how we can help more disabled families access childcare—presumably that offer also includes looking at the qualifications and training needed to enable them to do that—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Margot James.)

Adjourned till Thursday 10 December at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

CB 01 4Children

CB 02 Polly Anna’s Nursery

CB 03 Keith Beardmore, The Manor Nursery School

CB 04 National Children’s Bureau

CB 05 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group

CB 06 Family and Childcare Trust

CB 07 Contact a Family

CB 08 Pre-school Learning Alliance

CB 09 Montessori Schools Association