Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 1 - 9)

WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001

MS GILL HAYNES, OBE

Chairman

  1. Gill Haynes is our first witness this morning. She is Chief Executive of the National Childminding Association of England and Wales. With 60 per cent of active childminders as members, the Association holds the largest database of registered carers in Europe. Since 1997, NCMA has been working closely with the government to help deliver high quality, accessible and affordable childcare and education through new quality assurance and training initiatives. Could I just welcome everyone here this morning. This is a pleasant return, we hope, to our Early Years Report. Some time before I became the Chair of the Committee, much wiser members of the Committee who have been here longer than me decided that they would go away and think about what it is the Committee is actually doing, and they came up with one of the very interesting ideas which seems quite sensible, commonsensical anyway, that once you do a report and you put all this energy and time into it, you actually follow it through, you come back to it in a debate in Westminster Hall. In a sense, this morning is an attempt really to push that boundary a little further and to say, "OK, we wrote a report. We thought it was quite a good report, some of the comments were rather nice, but we did not really talk to the people who were affected after the report." This is a chance for us to hear what you thought of the report: strengths, weaknesses, what we missed out, and, if there was going to be something else for us to do, what would that be? Indeed, this is also a very selfish limbering up before calling the Minister before us next week, so that we can line up all the difficult questions from our witnesses this morning. We will be rigorously sticking to the 15 minutes and we will start with Gill. I am going to ask you the opening question with which we will be opening every round, and that is: What did you think of the report? What did you like about it? What did you not like about it?

  (Ms Haynes) Thank you very much and thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I think, like everybody in the Select Committee audience today, we very much welcomed the report in general. Of course we were particularly delighted at the time of the publication of the report because the key recommendations at the beginning supported the issues with which I fear we have become over-associated in the last few months, those of smacking and smoking. I will return to those later, because I think there are wider issues that we would also very much like to talk about, but it was very important for us to have that endorsement from the Select Committee, knowing how much time and effort as individuals you have put into this work in the last year and knowing the in-depth study you have made of the whole sector in that time. It was very, very welcome at a time when many of our members felt completely flattened by the Government's announcement of separating out childminders from the rest of the childcare sector. I would like to come back to that because I think there is an issue of morale in the sector which needs to be addressed if the wider strategies that are included in the Government's National Childcare Strategy are to be achieved. We very much welcomed the report in general and the interest that individual members of the Committee had spent in actually visiting childminders. I do not think people realise that actually we go and see them as well and I know that a number of the members of the Committee have taken time out to go and visit childminders in their area who are our members and know the high standards to which they are trying to work. So, thank you very much, yes, we did agree with virtually everything in the report. I do not think there was anything with which we disagreed, in so far as I have read it in some detail. I think you also are asking what we might liked to have seen in the report that was not there. I think, from my own point of view and the Association's point of view, perhaps we would have liked to have seen a greater emphasis on children's rights and entitlements. I think that, in a sense, comes out as a result of the Government's Response to your response (if I may put it in that way), but I think actually the starting point, the vision of the Early Years' strategy from nought-to-seven needs always to be the child and children's rights. I think, when I come on to the particular issues in relation to childminding and the new childcare regulations, you will take that point there. In particular, I would just like to draw attention to your recommendation 9, which is one government department. I think those of us who have spent the last four years talking to about four or five different departments would very much welcome the idea of a truly integrated approach to nought-to-fives and nought-to-sevens. Recommendation 22, the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. It is very important that registered childminders working in approved childminding networks are recognised as part of the early education framework. That has been a huge achievement and we very much welcomed your highlighting of that in the report. Recommendation 33, which is about pay and conditions, I would like particularly to come back to in terms of what we think the Minister might be asked about, and recommendation 38, funding targets, because funding for training is a critical factor over the next few years. As Chair of the United Kingdom National Training Organisation for the last two years, I am acutely aware of how important that is going to be in the next parliament. I would make particular reference to those four recommendations as being key ones from our point of view. Would you like me to go on, or ...?

  Chairman: I will see if my colleagues want to come in.

Helen Jones

  2. Could I ask you about training, which you mentioned. We made a number of recommendations and it is fair to say that as a Committee we had a lot of debate about those recommendations and exactly what they should be. I would like your view, before we meet the Minister, particularly on how you think childminders should fit in to that training, that set-up that we have recommended; how the ladder of qualifications that we recommend would help childminders; and, most importantly, what sort of funding that is going to require and how it can be achieved in practice rather than in theory.
  (Ms Haynes) I think that one of the huge under-reported stories of this country is the fact that as of today registered childminders do not need any training at all. I think, when you actually say that to people from Europe, they sort of look at you and tear their hair out a bit, because they are part of the regulated sector and they do still provide the majority of full-time day care in this country. We are looking at a huge social attitudinal issue, are we not? Because, OK, it apparently has been all right for this to be the prevailing circumstances until 2001, and I am still waiting for the draft National Standards to be published which will or will not say whether there is any compulsory training required for registered childminders, but my organisation has spent the last 25 years campaigning for at least compulsory registration training and we have worked very closely with CACHE, the awarding body, to develop the childminding qualification, the Certificate in Childminding Practice, which is on the QCA framework, which consists of three units, a 12-hour introductory unit and two 60-hour follow-on units. That is a level 3 qualification and I think what we have to recognise is that registered childminders are operating unsupervised, on their own, unsupported, very largely, within local authorities—although it varies—and they are operating at National Occupational Standards at level 3. They, above all people, actually should be included and incorporated in a framework of qualifications which starts with an achievable accredited course but which actually gives them the facility to go to do their full level 3 qualification. That is achievable. That is on the framework. As of yesterday, I think something like 80 local authorities are starting to run the Introducing Childminding Practice module, which is fantastic news. This is going to make a huge difference to the quality and capability of the childcare workforce in this country in the future. So I am very optimistic, but funding is going to be a very, very difficult issue, and Early Years partnerships are going to have to look very, very closely not just at the issue of funding but also at the issue of time, because the biggest barrier to women accessing training is not money, it is time.

Charlotte Atkins

  3. Where would you say that the NNEB qualification fits in? I have been approached by a number of nursery nurses who feel somewhat slighted and somehow left out of this ladder of qualifications. Do you think they should be enthusiastic about the new emphasis on Early Years training or do you think they should feel slighted that they are not included in that? Many of them see themselves as the first professionals in childcare and child development and now feel somewhat left out.
  (Ms Haynes) I think what we have to do is to raise the profile of training language, because the NNEB is a signatory to the company that has been a dormant company since 1993 and does not exist. We are still talking about qualifications when we should be talking about the CACHE equivalence, which is the CACHE diploma. I am sure Richard Dorrance will be able to answer that in much more detail, but they are there in the framework. That level of qualification is recognised and was a vital part of that ladder of qualifications and they should not feel devalued in terms of the qualification. I think the issue of pay and conditions is a separate but linked one, which is why I think the Government's Response to your recommendations, which says we do not have anything to do with pay and conditions, actually is unsatisfactory because at the end of the day there has to be a degree of leadership about how we value the work of those people who are educating the youngest children in society because that actually is critical. It is all very well for people to say you are going a good job, but if you still get paid £7,000 a year and if you would get paid more to stack the shelves in a supermarket than you do to look after babies and young children, then it is quite clear to you what "society" thinks of the work you are doing. And that is a big issue that has to be addressed. The market is not a terribly good indicator of value when it comes to childcare.

  Chairman: We are teasing out some really rather good things here.

Dr Evan Harris

  4. What would your response be to the Government's response on the issue of smacking and smoking? Their view is that because the majority wants it that has guided their view in terms of what limits should or should not be put on childminding and childcare in the home.
  (Ms Haynes) I would like to try to keep my view repeatable for the purposes of the Committee. I think it is a very interesting question because if you actually read the regulations for childminders which are included in the draft Standards, childminders are actually going to be required to ensure that all children are restrained in an appropriate car seat or car belt, presumably because we know that actually to have children unrestrained in the back of a car is potentially damaging to their health. You could argue: How on earth is the State going to regulate whether or not childminders actually do use seat belts for children? The Government appears to think that that is perfectly OK and will be able to be regulated, but on the issue of smoking and smacking they take a completely different view. They seem to think that because they cannot actually see whether or not this is going on, therefore they cannot regulate it. They have great fear of being characterised as the "Nanny State" but actually on these two issues, critical issues of children's welfare and safety, we are quite clear that the Government should be giving an unequivocal lead. And I believe that parents want that as well. I do not believe—I have no evidence from any children's information service in the country—that they have had a request in the last five years, from any parent, to look for a registered childminder who smokes and smacks. Both of those are completely contrary to the National Occupational Standards that govern how childcare should be happening in this country, and so, actually to be setting as a minimum standard for the industry—which is what childcare is if you are talking about a market—standards which are lower than the National Occupational Standards which the Government has also set, seems to me to be entirely contradictory and cannot be supported. But I think there are a lot of other things which flow from that. The Children Act has as its key principle the welfare of the child and the paramountcy of that principle. What is being jeopardised by these new National Standards is that principle, because actually it is saying that children's welfare and children's health and development has to be the first principle in terms of day care and childminding unless the parent says otherwise. I think that is the thin end of the wedge and I think it is a very dangerous road to be going down.

  5. The Government is not saying that the parents say their child should not be restrained in the car. That is not a possible scenario.
  (Ms Haynes) That is not a possible scenario. But, I mean, you could get a parent who said, "Actually, I think the best way for my child—

Chairman

  6. Surely the difference here is that it is against the law to have a child in a car unrestrained at any time. That is the law. There is not a law against people smoking, or smacking children.
  (Ms Haynes) There will be in terms of regulation for all other day care settings, and the issue is: separating out registered childminding, the majority provider, sets off all sorts of signals which actually neither parents nor the childminding profession wants.

Dr Evan Harris

  7. I see the point, that if parental view can override in one setting why should it not override the regulation in another setting that is outside the home.
  (Ms Haynes) Absolutely. I think the Daily Mail were very quick to congratulate the Government in terms of allowing smoking and smacking in the childminding setting because it said, "Well, there are an awful lot of us who would like to see it in playgroups, schools, nurseries and everywhere else, because it is a jolly good thing, you know, physical punishment." So it is the thin end of the wedge and there is a great missed opportunity because the Guidance to the Children Act of, I think, ten or 12 years ago, under a different Government, was quite explicit. It said, "Corporal punishment is illegal in maintained schools and should not be used by any of the parties covered by the Guidance." That very strong signal, very strong message, has been watered down in new National Standards and I think will prove to be entirely unworkable. I do not know how one of the new childcare inspectors under OFSTED is actually going to be able to regulate something as providing high quality opportunities for the wellbeing, health and development of children and register a childminder who is prepared to smoke, with the parents' consent, over the children, because we know that smoking damages children.

Chairman

  8. Gill, I am afraid our time is up. Thank you for that. We have covered a number of issues. As we go through the morning, I think many of them will come up again, although I do want to get in proportion, as I said and as all of us said at the time of the publication of the Report, we want to get in balance, that, yes, we will be taking up the smoking and smacking issue with the Minister—we will do—but we do not want that to obscure the fact that this is a serious inquiry about many other things.

  (Ms Haynes) Absolutely.

Chairman

  9. In a sense, I think we have covered that.





 
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