South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss

Norfolk childcare reforms: What do you think? Leave your comments here

By VICTORIA LEGGETT Education correspondent
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
6.30 AM

Major reforms aiming to help tackle a shortage of childcare places in areas like Norfolk will today be unveiled by one of the county’s MPs.

Elizabeth Truss, childcare minister, believes her shake up will help provide “more choice of quality education and care for parents”.

But the South West Norfolk MP is likely to face a backlash today from parents and charities who fear her overhaul will reduce quality and increase prices for families.

As part of her reforms, Mrs Truss wants to improve the qualifications held by childcare workers to bring them more in line with those of teachers. She said: “When parents had 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 child’s brain.

“With this in mind it is no longer acceptable that childcare professionals are not required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and maths.”

Workers would be able to achieve a new Early Years Educators qualification which would allow their nurseries to increase the number of young people it looks after per member of staff. Mrs Truss said that would allow nurseries to increase their capacity and use the extra revenue to pay higher wages.

As reported previously in the EDP, Norfolk faces a race to provide early education places for thousands of disadvantaged two year olds thanks to a government policy promising free access.

Last night Barnardo’s director of strategy Janet Grauberg warned it would be watching carefully to ensure the changes did not jeopardise the quality of care available. “It is quality of care that really counts for the most disadvantaged children as poorer children’s vocabulary can lag up to 15 months behind their peers making pre-school education crucial in helping to close this gulf in development.”

The government reforms, published today, also aim to overhaul childminders and make it easier for them to set up business by introducing “childminder agencies” and increasing the number of children they can look after. Mrs Truss said this was particularly important in rural areas where sparsely populated communities mean many families are more likely to rely on childminders than nurseries.

But Norwich mother of two Sophie Berry said she feared any changes would lead to price rises. She said: “It’s a really fine line as to whether it’s worth going back to work or staying at home and looking at the children. I would hate to think the cost of care would be too much to stop me going out to work.”

Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children’s services Alison Thomas said she would be studying the proposals closely and would welcome any measures that provided extra support for Norfolk families.