Where has Mary Poppins Gone?
Those that know me will know I can’t resist a Disney connection but sadly this is not a fun filled article, it is a serious one that has huge repercussions for the childcare industry.
When I first opened a nursery 23 years ago, the qualification needed by staff was the NNEB (Nursery Nurse Examination Board), to enter this course you needed to achieve minimum grades in English and Maths and take an English speaking exam. The course content was such that when students completed their studies they were highly sought after in the world of Nannying (a sole person in charge of the care, well-being and development of children, potentially from birth!), which for a very good friend of mine meant working for some very important people around the world and earning herself the reputation of ‘a real-life Mary Poppins’ (yes that is her winning first prize at her own child’s school costume competition dressed as “Mary Poppins’ of course!).
Fast forward 20 years though and things are very different. I chair a Hertfordshire Childcare Forum Group and there has been a common thread to all of our discussions recently – “Where are all the qualified staff?”
Everyone is desperate for good qualified Level 3 (NVQ) staff!
Well the problem it seems is that Government recently changed the requirements for entry on to the Level 3 course – you now have to a have a minimum grade C in English and Maths. Now I know I am probably going to be controversial and receive endless amounts of backlash BUT, I don’t think that is far enough!
You see, the Early Years is a very undervalued and down-trodden profession of late. I have honestly heard careers advisors say ‘if you can’t do anything else why not do childcare”. I am horrified!! To be a teacher of children from 5 years old you have to undertake a teaching degree, no one argues there, but to care for the under 5’s where the very foundation of ALL skills is developed, and in particular in their first year, the requirements are only just a grade C in Maths and English? This in itself is undervaluing the profession and the well-being of children!
However, to make matters worse both the course content and the EYFS (Early Year’s Foundation Stage) Framework, which is the Government’s own development programme, is appalling and the root cause of the current trend of development regression we are seeing and the constant berating of childcare and nurseries in the media!
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not being derogatory to those currently in the childcare profession, I have absolutely fantastic staff that are very dedicated and passionate and I am sure that all other setting owners would agree. However, when leaving college, after a much shorter course time, their knowledge base is nowhere near what it needs to be (or used to be) and much more on the job training is needed (costing nurseries more time and money). Many good and outstanding settings provide this, however some don’t and staff are just expected to jump in at the deep end.
I can almost understand why the recent Save The Children report said “every nursery should have a qualified teacher’ – shock horror I know as I am adamantly against ‘formal education for the under 7’s let alone the under 5’s. Taking the statement as it is, I don’t agree with it as it is basically saying to all those fantastic nursery staff that are doing their best “you’re rubbish and you need someone ‘better qualified’ to tell you what to do”.
This is absolutely NOT the case!
I am VERY lucky, I have numerous staff that have been with me 10 years or more (and many 15-20 years or more) and they have earned their positions and professional status through hard work, dedication and constant training. I also have some fabulous staff that although not with me as long are just as dedicated and willing to participate in our continued training and having spent some time in one nursery in particular this last couple of weeks it is very evident just how great they are and they just want to absorb anything you can teach them.
What the childcare profession needs though is a new ‘Professional Nursery Nurse’ qualification with a completely revamped course content that teaches child development and how to nurture it as it should be (not what it has become), that details the care and wellbeing needed by babies (believe it or not this is barely covered) that gives those that complete it a recognised professional status. It needs to be an accessible ‘Top Up’ course for existing Level 3 staff and a much more detailed, higher status course for those wishing to become qualified to a much higher standard than the current Level 3. Before everyone argues ‘there is already an Early Years Professional Status qualification, I am fully aware of it but it focuses much more on the educational system and not on the care, well-being, health and development from birth! The under 1’s is almost a forgotten age when it comes to Ofsted & qualifications!
In addition, whilst I agree there should be a minimum grade C in Maths & English they should be required to undertake further tuition and achieve a minimum grade B on a re-take. After all, we are expecting these people to be responsible for the development (which includes the spoken and written language) of the next generation!
For those that cannot achieve that minimum grade but are still valid and excellent members of staff there should be a Nursery Assistant qualification that allows them to still be supportive team members.
As the current rules stand, a Nursery Manager must hold a Level 3 qualification (which is only equivalent to two A Levels). For the rest of the staff, half must hold a minimum of Level 2 (which is only equivalent to 5 GCSE grades A-C), the rest may be unqualified.
Is this not the root of the problem? Just as in our education system, the requirements are continually dumbed down to counteract the continuing failings of the Government policies?? In order to make the profession a valued one we need to make continued professional development and further qualification part of the heirachy of positions. The qualified status should not be a Level 2, it should be at least Level 3 (or as I would prefer a new Professional Nursery Nurse qualification) with senior and management staff required to undertake new specific qualifications too. However, we need the funding to do so – and therein lies one of the problems.
Another problem is as always, the Government have not listened over the past 10 years or so to those of us on the ground highlighting these issues, so we are now almost at a point of no return! Why you may ask? Because funding and budgets have been cut so severely over the years that most settings could not afford to pay for their current employees to undertake further training to raise the standards and many of those employees now have their own families and commitments and would also find it hard to do. In addition, as highlighted in my letter to David Cameron last year, over half of those leaving school last year did not achieve even a grade C in Maths or English and most of those that did would not consider the childcare profession as it is so undervalued!
So what about the next generation of childcare professionals and my quest for ‘Mary Poppins’. Well, just to reiterate the point – our local college, Herts Regional College only have 12, yes 12 students completing their Level 3 this year, that is all!
We are continually forced to follow the EYFS which in itself is damaging to children’s development. We are also forced to accept Government policies on Free 15 hours education, which is grossly underfunded and will also be forced to accept the new additional 15 hours free childcare which is likely also to be grossly underfunded. However, I would like to point out that the Government COULD find £3million pounds to go to an organization just to administer the new 30hrs funding scheme! Utterly outrageous!
Childcare is not VAT Zero rated, like it should be (due to EU restraints!) and all previous subsidies on business rates etc have been withdrawn over the years.
The childcare industry is in crisis! The nursery nurse profession is in crisis! In answer to my question “where has Mary Poppins gone? The answer I am afraid is not good…
“Mary Poppins is a fictional representation of all things that were great in the ‘childcare world’ and the way things used to be before constant meddling from Government, financial burdens and berating from media completely under-minded and devalued a profession that was once a sign of ‘Great Britishness’ & our status in the world.“