It’s been an interesting day for childcare minister Liz Truss – summoned to Parliament early this morning to make a statement about her intentions to raise the limits on the numbers of children that individual childminders can work with. Those who are new to this matter could start with a previous 3D Eye post –
Today’s events were kicked off by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg telling the world – yesterday – that he has deep reservations about Ms Truss’s proposals, which have been universally panned by just about every organisation concerned with childminding and preschool provision, during the ‘consultation’ process.
Obviously Ms Truss has paid no attention whatsoever to her critics, hence the call to explain herself to parliament. And a pretty poor performance she put on for some sparsely populated green benches and a Parliament Channel TV audience.
Meg Hillier MP invited Ms Truss to say which parents’ groups and childminder groups support higher ratios. Ms Truss completely avoided the question, and instead told us that Sir Michael Wilshaw, HMCI, who has no early years or childminding experience, supports the proposals. Really. As far as we can tell he actually supports the proposal to raise the qualifications threshold for childminders, but has expressed no strong support for higher ratios of children to childminders. Indeed – why would he? Isn’t it obvious that individual children have less individual attention when group sizes are bigger?
Helen Jones MP said that none of the professionals she’s consulted support Truss or higher ratios. She also drew attention to Truss’s diversionary tactics of waffling on about qualifications rather than the higher ratios – or who supports the changes. (Nobody) It really is incredible how far out on a limb Truss is on this, although it’s being said that Number 10, and by implication Mr Gove, still support her.
Truss, an economist, of course wanted to talk about the economics of her proposals, and the cost of childcare, rather than quality of provision or meeting children’s needs. In his response Labour’s shadow, Stephen Twigg, did a decent job of focusing on diminished quality of provision and the rejection of Truss’s proposals by every real expert. Meg Hillier told Truss that she must listen to parents, which we already know she won’t.
Truss went on about the current system of childcare and its costs, calling it ‘unsustainable’, but we know that there IS no ‘system’ as such – just a free market mess which is lightly regulated by laws on ratios. Children and parents in this country have no proper entitlement to childcare.
What Truss actually means is that childcare is practically or actually unaffordable – not unsustainable – for most parents who are on low wages or minimum wages.
Every now and then Truss tries the Gove trick of calling out the name of something or somebody he/she thinks will impress ‘progressives’ among his/her opponents. Gove has tried ‘Finland!’ and ‘Singapore!’ With Truss it’s currently ‘Denmark!’ – on the basis that Denmark has no regulation about ratios. Unfortunately for Truss the Guardian has published the truth about Denmark and its low fees for childminding – which are due to the fact that the Danes are willing to pay higher taxes and higher state subsidies for childcare.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Since Clegg has now cited the overwhelmingly negative responses to the childcare consultation it’s difficult to see how he can now back away from opposition to the Truss proposals and allow his troops to support her.
The following links are well worth reading. For more tweeted comments on today’s events please go to @3Diassociates