UNISON has always campaigned for free at the point of use public childcare service and therefore welcomes the proposal to increase the current “free hours” to 1140 a year. There is widespread agreement that poverty and inequality in Scotland are too high and reducing the cost of child care can make life easier for working families. UNISON agrees that the delivery of 1140 hours of free at the point of use Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) could make a huge difference to families in the short term and to children’s attainment. That said UNISON have major concerns that the expansion plans could widen the attainment gap and benefit those on higher incomes more than those on middle and lower incomes.
Funding following the child model is likely to widening the attainment gap UNISON’s primary concern is around the early years expansion funding model with details of “Funding Follows the Child” . This could lead to the expansion of the lower paid private and voluntary sector nurseries with a serious impact on funding available for public sector nurseries. While “funding follows the child” sounds quite innocuous demand led schemes like this tend to lead to a two tier system where those that cannot afford to top up the voucher end up in much poorer settings than those who are better off.
The service must be delivered by qualified staff not those “working towards” qualifications. It is the skills and experiences of staff that determines the quality of a service and that requires appropriate pay not the Living Wage.
Early years and childcare is best delivered by Local Authorities
To be fully effective the 1140 hrs expansion will also require investment in a range of public services highlighting the importance of why early years must be embedded in local authorities where links to social work, libraries, youth work, leisure and cultural services as well as social work, welfare rights, educational psychologists and housing can be best co-ordinated.
Early years workers are worth a lot more than the living wage
Recruiting and retaining highly qualified staff requires attractive pay and terms and conditions. Currently there are far too many private and voluntary employers who do not currently pay staff a living wage which is already too low for work done of highly skilled early years workers. The difference in average pay for early years workers in Scotland is stark across sectors is stark: Public £28,000; Private £15,000, Voluntary £16,000. The public sector already has far higher rates on qualified staff: it is this sector the government should focus on expanding.
A practitioner moving from the private to the public sector is looking at an average wage rise of £13,000 per year plus a final salary pension. A recent report from the National Day Nurseries Association (Scotland7) states that private nurseries currently lose 3 staff per year to the public sector.
High quality childcare means highly qualified staff
A system that is child centred requires highly qualified staff. UNISON believes that all practitioners should be qualified to HNC level and managers to degree level. This does not mean that we do not support work based routes to achieving that level just that only those who are fully qualified should count towards the staff/child ratio in a setting. This way guarantees that children are being supported by qualified staff. It is vital that all those working in the sector have a qualification that includes child development. This must include childminders otherwise children in this type of setting will not be getting the same quality of experience as others.
The list of concerns goes on.
UNISON continues to be vigilant to a wide range of concerns regarding expansion which includes: Quality of service; Physical space for children to learn; Transitions to outdoor learning, Varying charges for additional hours; Expansion of free lunches; Staff ratios and support for ASN; Degrees of flexibility parent expect; changes to shift patterns; training, recruiting and retaining staff for 2020. You can get more in depth information on the early years expansion via www.unison-scotland.org website under education issues group.
It’s time to get active
There is no better time to get active in UNISON Inverclyde. Every early years establishment should elect a Unison Representative. Paid time off, training and support is given to anyone interested.
Please contact the Branch Office on 01475 715900 or your Workplace Steward for more information