Angela Burns describes a new initiative, launched today, to garner views on childcare policy
At the Welsh Conservative conference in April earlier this year, we announced the establishment of a Childcare Commission that would seek to find a solution to the childcare challenges facing many parents across Wales. As the Shadow Minister for Education it is my role to lead on this important issue.
The first step I took was to review the existing policies of both the UK and Welsh Governments, and to identify leaders in the field of education and childcare to participate in the Commission itself. This evening sees the first of a series of public events on the issue at Llanfair Primary School in Cowbridge. (Monday 2 December, 6-7.30pm)
This public meeting will be followed by three other events across Wales, ensuring that people in every corner of Wales will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. We are keen to get the feedback and opinions of people from all walks of life, expert and lay, to inform our strategy for childcare going into the next Assembly term.
The UK Government is working to provide a scheme which funds 15 hours per week of childcare for the 130,000 most disadvantaged two-year-olds, and 92,000 are already benefiting, an increase of 20,000 since 2010. The UK Government’s aim is to double the number of places, to 260,000, by September 2014. However, this will only affect families in England – though in Wales a lot of parents who need childcare receive tax credits provided by the UK Government.
The Welsh Government’s policy has been very much focused on expanding the number of children who are eligible to a place on their Flying Start Programme – a programme which focuses on children from deprived backgrounds. This is a laudable aim . However, our research has highlighted stories of childcare only being made available during the middle of the day for some parents. If care is only available between 10am and 2pm, for example, it is exceptionally difficult to take full time employment.
Childcare must be flexible enough to cater for the needs of parents with a variety of different needs and circumstances. Often working parents will job share, working morning or afternoon shifts.
Private nurseries are usually happy to take children from this scheme, but for those families who are only being offered childcare between ten and two, this poses problems for both the parent and the nursery: The parent is restricted to supported childcare for only part of the day, while the nursery receives only half a day in fees, and cannot offer the remaining hours to another child.
Even if we forget the financial impact this has on the childcare provider, what it really means is that one child is stopped from enjoying play with their peers and possibly one or even two parents are stopped from seeking full time work.
We want to see as many parents and education professionals as possible to contribute a diverse range of views at our public meetings. Childcare can affect families in many different ways and we want to identify solutions, and recognise that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ system isn’t going to meet their needs. We need a flexible and supportive framework.
At the Childcare Commission’s first event this evening, we will be looking at Germany as a case study. We will also look at other case studies at other events, However, we chose Germany to start with because of its particularly high standard of state provision – and the controversy which is currently surrounding its new system.
As of August 2013, every child in Germany between the age of one and three is guaranteed a spot in ‘day care’. However, if parents do not wish to place their child in care, they will receive €100 a month, with this figure rising to €150 in 2014.
Some critics have claimed that this measure is discouraging parents from getting back into work after giving birth, and potentially harming the economy. On the other hand, many people counter that the German system now guarantees much needed support for families struggling to manage the burden of childcare costs.
We will be debating these issues and many more throughout the series of public events and we would welcome your input every step of the way.
One thought on “Helping Welsh parents return to work”
Interesting that the Conservatives are focusing on Germany as a case study as it is providing state-funded childcare (albeit in a mixed-economy) for all children from the age of 12 months – something that even Welsh Labour aren’t able to countenance at present. However, the Germans are coming to this against the back-drop of the lowest rates of fecundity in Europe, an education system where many women aren’t able to start careers until their late twenties and where ‘traditional’ family values, a lack of childcare and short school days result in many women not working at all.
While the new law in Germany, has resulted in an unprecedented boom in day nursery building, other aspects of childcare provision have been neglected. There are real concerns over the quality of childcare practitioners – whom as in Wales are underpaid and under-appreciated – available to meet demand. There are also wider quality issues. A recent report by some of the most renowned educational theorists in Germany found that the quality of teaching in the vast majority of daycare is either mediocre or seriously lacking. Children in only 2.6 percent of groups were being provided with the kind of stimulation that would later help them with reading, mathematics, the sciences and other important areas of education. They also found that while German daycare was helpful to well-educated middle-class families, it did not help children from deprived backgrounds.
I suspect the aspect of the developments in Germany that the Welsh Conservatives are most interested in however, is the ‘stay-at-home’ allowance that Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition are providing. This gives parents who choose not to use the state-supported daycare an allowance of 150 euros a month. It is strongly criticised however, for reinforcing the traditional idea of German women’s roles based on Kinder, Kueche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church), with the ‘hausfrau’ being virtuous as opposed to the derogatory notion of the ‘rabenmutter’ (Raven Mother’) applied to working mothers.
This is all very different to the situation in Wales where none of the major political parties is proposing the extent and level of subsidised childcare now found in Germany (and supply-side subsidies are not devolved anyway). Levels of inequality and deprivation in Wales are very different to those found in Germany. Yes, high quality early childhood care and education in Wales is needed to support working parents and in some areas we do need more of it. More importantly however, early childhood services (such as Flying Start) must focus on meeting the developmental needs of children, providing the compensatory early childhood experiences for our most vulnerable children that the German system is clearly not.
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