I stumbled across the House of Lords TV feed totally by accident (via Twitter – the power of having social media!). It is a fascinating process to watch and listen to – and very, very encouraging.
The first debate I watched was on the 16th June, which was the second reading of the Childcare Bill (see link below). Lord Nash (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education) opened up the debate with the Government’s party line, with nothing new or surprising. For example, how a ‘balance’ has to be struck when setting the hourly rate – between fair for providers and ‘value for money for the taxpayer’, how the increase in number of practitioners with NVQ3 will raise quality in settings and how the sector is ‘vibrant’ and growing.
This both surprised and annoyed me. This description sounded miles away from the sector that I know. Every day I meet setting managers who are desperately trying to balance the books – and are worried about the further implications of the ‘free’ hours going up to 30. I hear from settings how having GCSE maths and English doesn’t address the issues of practitioner’s understanding of child development – or, even more worryingly, how a lack of GCSE maths (typically) is stopping the progress of outstanding practitioners. A quick look at the latest news stories tells tales of practitioners leaving to work at supermarkets, settings having to make difficult financial decisions about being able to stay open and how recruitment of staff is proving difficult to impossible in some areas.
But then Baroness Jones of Whitchurch replied – and asked all the really hard questions I was asking myself:
Where was the detail?
How could they judge the impact when there has been ‘very little evaluation’ of the current 15 hours? How can they say 30 hours will be more effective?
And then she questioned his calculations on the cost of providing free childcare – where would the money come from? Would providers want to continue to offer the ‘free’ hours when they could earn more money elsewhere?
How will schools offer this extra childcare when they are already short on space due to the increased number of school aged children?
And what about the quality and child development? Training and development of staff?
Ending with a comment on how frustrating it was to try to make decisions without the necessary details or information.
The Baroness spoke for less than 10 minutes, but it was amazing!
By this time I was mesmerised and everything else stopped as I sat watching the Honourable Members of the House of Lords demand to have answers on the Childcare Bill. It was a three hour debate, with many different perspectives presented. Although Lord Nash was unable to answer many of the questions at that time, it was very heartening to hear them being asked.
“Well”, I thought, “Super – but will this be followed up? Will there be more?”
Luckily – yes! Yesterday (30th June), there were further questions of clarification, including questions from Lord Laming (of the Laming Report, 2009) and further questions about funding from Baroness Pinnock, amongst others. And more questions about the detail of the Bill (i.e. where were the details?). Although this was a much shorter session (about 8 minutes) there were some very pointed questions raised.
All in all, watching these exchanges gave me a sense of hope that there are many vocal people who are willing to challenge the Government on behalf of the sector and for children.
Whether the extra free hours, the need to have GCSE maths or the new inspection framework makes any difference to the quality and quantity of childcare provision in England remains to be seen.
At least there is a healthy debate going on.
Follow the House of Lords on Twitter: @UKHouseofLords
16th June: Second reading of the Childcare Bill: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/18aa8f49-e036-42c0-ab41-19e32b9a9230?in=15:08:09
30th June: Further questions of clarification about the Childcare Bill: Effective Monitoring of Childcare places: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/730db1df-f28c-4bd4-b10a-fc9964519c54?agenda=True