So many manifestos, so little time…
With all the manifestos now published, the Learning Escape have been taking a good look at the pledges being made for education, particularly in the early years sector. Our interpretation, notwithstanding a lack of substance on how much funding will be forthcoming, suggests an almost universal commitment to expanding the hours of free childcare for 3–4 year olds with an additional emphasis on ensuring a higher proportion of fully qualified early years staff. Of course, there are some outlying views such as the Greens’ desire to create a free, universal, high-quality early years education system from birth until the age of compulsory education, which they would raise to age seven. However, such pledges are unlikely to come to pass during the next parliamentary term as general economic conditions continue to constrain public spending. Nonetheless, it is almost without doubt that the early years sector is due a funding injection to facilitate both capital projects and the employment of more staff, with higher qualifications.
Whilst we can have no way of knowing who will win the election, the end result will almost certainly be another coalition. Furthermore, with the surge in support for the minor parties, the likeliest consequence will be a dramatic increase in their influence. So while it is undoubtedly worth having a look at both the major parties (and, of course, the Lib Dems, who would seem to be paving the way for an alliance with either) we should also be mindful of the other players most likely to align themselves with Ed Miliband. The Labour party can rely on three votes from Northern Ireland’s SDLP (an ideological stablemate), one from the Greens, and one each from George Galloway and Lady Hermon: support from Plaid Cymru is also likely. Neither Ed nor David seem to be too keen on forming a relationship with UKIP or the SNP, although Labour may need to back pedal and buddy up with Nicola Sturgeon, depending on the Scottish outcome.
Who is promising what?
The Conservatives are committing to a doubling of free childcare hours, to 30 per week, for 3–4-year-olds of working families from 2017, and are promising to invest in new capacity to support their plans. Labour echo the proposals (though only suggesting a rise to 25 hours), while the Liberal Democrats are keen to adopt a more wide-ranging and ambitious approach. They would like to see the introduction of 15 hours free childcare from the end of paid parental leave (nine months) to two years, followed by 20 hours per week for all 2–4 year olds. The SDLP are focused upon quality and a more general promise to create better provision for nursery and primary school children, whilst Plaid Cymru are pledging qualified teaching staff for 3–4-year-olds. The SNP are remarkably similar to the Conservatives in their preschool ethos, wishing to double free nursery hours to 30 per week, whilst investing in more space for smaller class sizes, starting with early years.
Even if the winning party or, more likely, the ‘triumphant’ coalition end up delivering a watered down version of all the above, there is one thing that we can be sure of: there is a baby boom happening and early years capacity must rise to meet it. There is also a genuine, common political will to extend childcare provision to allow more families to work and to ensure that all pre-school children have access to a high-quality system that will eradicate the inequality of opportunity that is still a reality, before our nation’s children even enter Year R.
Whether you are a dedicated provider of early years care, or a primary school with existing or planned nursery provision, you should prepare yourself for a period of expansion and exciting opportunities. And should your future plans include an investment in a new nursery facility, the Learning Escape invite you take a moment to consider the importance of the building in which the children and staff will be accommodated.
Buildings that support staff to give the best start
The Learning Escape are passionate in their belief in the powerful impact that the buildings in which we learn and work can have upon our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, as well as our behaviour and our capacity to learn. Through a greater connection with the outdoors and the maximisation of the best lighting source of all, the sun, they create buildings that they believe help those providing early years care, to give young children the best possible start in life. Take a look at the testimonial of one of their customers, St. Fagans Primary School, to get a better feel for what the right building might do for your nursery and its children.