After a fairly quiet period following the election last year, the DfE has begun to produce more proposals and changes which will affect us all. The latest update to Keeping Children Safe in Education (www.gov.uk/government/publications) was published in May and contains both new requirements and a useful overview of the current guidance. It comes into effect in September and although it applies to schools and colleges, the principles are highly likely to apply in future to settings registered with Ofsted.
DfE also published a consultation in May on the proposed 30 hours free place funding. Six areas have been identified as pilots from September before the proposed national roll-out in September 2017. In one local authority, York, many PVI providers were reluctant to join the scheme as the funding did not meet the costs of providing the places. This seems to be the case in other areas where local authorities have begun to sound out providers. As a result, the hourly rate has been increased to £4 for eligible 3 and 4 year olds. However anomalies remain, notably in variations between local authorities. The rate in Swindon will be £4.41 an hour. In Hertfordshire it will be £4.88 for the additional hours. Northumberland will pay £4.33 plus extra funding for deprivation. In Newham the rate is unchanged but remains the highest at £5.17 an hour.
MSA responded to the consultation making three basic points: the funding does not meet costs; many settings, especially in rented accommodation, are not able to access their premises for 30 hours a week, so cannot join the scheme anyway; and the scheme conflicts with other government policies, notably the living wage and improved staff qualifications, both of which are likely to raise employers costs. We also noted that unless funding levels are known before the start of the financial year, business planning is impossible. In three of the eight pilots the rate had not been confirmed by mid-June. This is simply not good enough. No wonder that the Social Mobility Commission reported in March that nearly 50% of new parents did not know what support was available.
I know that many MSA members are concerned about the possible effects of the 30 hours funding and some are even considering closure. However, we suggest that you continue to wait and see what happens over the next twelve months. It is important that local authorities realise that the additional 15 hours is an optional scheme not linked to continuing to be part of the current first 15 hours. Moreover the additional 15 hours are not aimed at improving childrens chances, but are a work incentive, according to Sam Giymah the minister. So when the Universities of Essex and Surrey say that the educational outcomes from the funding are not measurable, that is in part due to childrens education not being the goal of the policy. If you are told that to receive any funding you must take 30 hours or nothing, please let me know so that we can take the case up with the local authority and with DfE.
Another DfE consultation this summer has been on changes to disqualification arrangement affecting childcare workers. At the MEAB conference on June 10th, delegates helped us to formulate our responses to ten questions asked by DfE and the results have been sent to the Department, noting that this was a major exercise in participation by leaders of high quality provision. The issues are that the disqualification by association arrangements are far too tight. Two particular cases potentially affect staff. Thus where someone shares accommodation with a person who is disqualified from childcare work, then the childcare worker must also be disqualified. It is the employers duty to identify this and begin the disqualification process. Where staff live in flats or houses with several occupants and possibly a high turnover of such occupants, the system is nearly impossible to operate. Also if a care worker was themselves the subject of a care order or has adopted children who were subject to onethey are disqualified. We argue that the other checks on suitability including DBS and other employment checks should be adequate, and that the burden on employers is too great. Also the immediate suspension of staff, as required under the disqualification and pending any appeal, creates problems of continuity.
In September we shall be publishing guidance linking Ofsteds inspection judgements to the EYFS. The aim is to enable MSA members to provide quickly policies and other information relevant to each judgement as well as helping to ensure that you have checked all the EYFS requirements. This will add to the benefits of joining MSAso watch this space.
Meanwhile, have a restful and enjoyable summer.
Dr Martin Bradley
Montessori Schools Association