Early years training is a ticking time bomb, says Fay Gibbin…
Slowly but surely, we seem to be moving towards early years childcare as a universally free, government-funded service.
At the election, the major parties offered either the status quo or expansion to free childcare provision. This interest in a policy of free childcare is warranted. It is no understatement to say it can be transformative.
Take two examples – at the macro and the micro economic level. Economies benefit when more people are in work, and the availability of free childcare helps reduce the pressure on parents (usually the mums) to stay home.
This is particularly important in the UK, where childcare costs are some of the most expensive in the world, but there are more vacancies than skilled people to fill them.
Then let’s zoom in on the individuals affected by the policy.
Of course, taking the cost out of childcare and enabling people to work means their careers aren’t put on hold by having a child.
The policy also helps address the issue of women being pressured into taking long periods of time off work, and allows single parents without the safety net of a grandparent-carer to build a career. This policy makes a powerful difference at every level.
Unfortunately, nothing in this life is for free. The evidence shows that 30 hours free childcare for three- and four-year-olds is near enough mandatory, but the funding that government provides doesn’t cover the cost of provision.
This situation has created a ticking time bomb waiting to go off in the early years sector, similar to the various crises that have arisen in the adult social care sector.
In adult social care, funding has never matched the requirements of the sector, but more money always seemed over the horizon, with several governments promising to ‘fix’ social care.
This created a situation where providers struggled and responded by cutting costs. This led to a very lean social care system – but one that wasn’t willing to spend on the ‘nice to haves’, like training.
The problem, of course, is that training – or in other words, investing in your workforce – isn’t a ‘nice to have’; it’s the key to retaining and motivating staff.
It helps you improve the collective knowledge in your organisation, prepares you for when the Ofsted inspector comes knocking and proves to parents that your staff are highly skilled.
This lack of funding is a problem that will soon rear its head in the early years sector. By introducing free childcare and not funding it properly, the early years sector risks a skills shortage similar to that seen in the NHS.
Childcare, whether you’re a practitioner at a large nursery group or a nanny, is a highly skilled profession where a skills shortage could easily snowball into a crisis.
Without properly funding training provision, the sector could find that skilled people leave the profession at a faster rate than they are trained. This will lead to fewer childcare places, higher prices for parents, fewer practitioners moving up the ranks and further damage to the sector.
This isn’t to say that the sector shouldn’t go forward with free childcare. In fact, the opposite is true – in an ideal world, a properly funded system of free childcare extended from six months to primary school age could kickstart our economy and transform lives.
But if we go forward with the current policy, there could be disastrous consequences for the childcare system.
There’s still time to turn this around – and set the nursery sector on a stable and sustainable footing, with training provision as a key part of that sustainability.
Fay Gibbin is the founder of Avail Learning Academy. To find out more about the training offered by Avail Learning Academy, visit avail-learning-academy.com.