Nursery staff and childminders will be better paid, require more qualifications and look after more children under a government drive to improve a childcare system lagging well behind its European counterparts.
Elizabeth Truss, the Education and Childcare Minister, will promise that a shake-up announced today will eventually create “world-class” childcare. She wants England to match France, whose better-qualified nursery workers are paid about £16,000 a year, compared to £13,000 in the UK.
“We are at the bottom of the league table of our near neighbours,” Ms Truss said. “I am impressed by much of what happens in France. The well-established system of ecoles maternelles is being expanded to offer spaces for more two-year-olds.”
After criticism that students need more qualifications to look after animals than children in England, childcare professionals will be required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and Maths. The 400 different qualifications in the field will be simplified and made more rigorous. “When parents hand their child over to the care of a childminder or nursery, they are not just entrusting them with their child’s physical safety they are also entrusting their brain,” said Ms Truss.
Staff to child ratios will be relaxed to bring England more into line with the continent, but only when nurseries hire qualified people. Nursery staff will be able to look after four babies up to a year old instead of three as at present and four one-year-olds rather than three. Childminders will be able to look after two babies under one year of age rather than one at present and four one to five year-olds instead of three.
A £1.5bn scheme to help middle and lower incomes with child care costs is expected to be announced alongside the Budget in March, likely to be worth at least an extra £1,000 a year for families.
Labour released figures showing that more than 400 Sure Start children’s centres closed during the Coalition’s first two years after £430m earmarked for them was cut from council budgets, with more than half of those still open no longer providing any onsite childcare. Labour says £430m was cut from English local authority Sure Start budgets between 2010-11 and 2012-13. The Department for Education said: “This is nonsense. There are over 3,000 Sure Start centres in England…. Just 25 have actually closed, less than 1 per cent.”