Row over 'dumbed down' day nurseries

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The Independent Online

Government plans to cut the formal qualifications required for nursery nurses were attacked yesterday for "dumbing down" the quality of day care for thousands of pre-school children.

Government plans to cut the formal qualifications required for nursery nurses were attacked yesterday for "dumbing down" the quality of day care for thousands of pre-school children.

The new Care Standards Bill, expected to be issued for consultation next week, proposes that the qualifications required for those working full-time in nurseries are reduced from a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 3 to Level 2, which is equivalent to a GSCE.

But Rosemary Murphy, the chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), one of the leading childcare organisations, said: "I am dumbfounded by these standards. The implications for children in daycare are frightening.

"The Government is undermining quality by 'dumbing down' the standard required of nursery nurses. The most glaring irregularity is a slashing of standards so that only 50 per cent of staff need to be qualified to NVQ level 2," she said.

"It is a move which runs counter to the Government's national childcare strategy, the mantra of which is affordable, accessible, quality childcare. The spin is an agenda for high quality childcare, the reality will be a lowering in standards."

Ministers have already warned of a crisis in providing childcare for pre-school children because the number of childminders has dropped by a fifth in the past three years.

The latest move is seen as an attempt to get more people to take up a career looking after children.

"The standards completely undermine the value of nursery nurses. By creating a system which encourages nurseries to cut costs on staffing and lowering standards, the NDNA believes, this could open the floodgates for unscrupulous providers," said Mrs Murphy.

The proposed standards set no minimum experience requirement for a manager, enabling a newly qualified 18-year-old to be in charge of a nursery. In contrast, the leader of a baby room within a nursery setting is required to have at least two years relevant experience. "The incongruity of these standards leaves me astounded," said Mrs Murphy.

The latest figures show there are about 7,000 private day nurseries in England providing 247,0000 places in 1999, at an average cost of £100 to £180 a week. There are, in contrast, only 400 local authority day nurseries catering for around 18,000 children. The average private-sector nursery nurse earns £8,400, and a manager of a nursery £14,900.

The Government has promised to provide 1 million out-of-school places by 2003. Previous research has shown that one of the main concerns for working parents is good-quality care for their children.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: "It is a consultation document and when it is published people will have the chance to put forward their thoughts."

Research published by the Early Years National Training Organisation shows that most childcarers are women, with only 2 per cent being men. Most are under 40-years old.

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