The new schools minister denies that baseline assessment is intended to group infants by ability. Nadene Ghouri reports
PLANS to offer affordable childcare to every parent who needs it will fail unless care workers are better paid and better trained, say leading childcare charities.
The Government's national childcare strategy also risks excluding men, say the group.
Last week the Pre-school Learning Alliance said that half the workers in the playgroup industry are paid less than the planned minimum wage of Pounds 3.60 an hour.
Sheila Wild, director of employment policy at the Equal Opportunities Commission, told The TES: "It is critical to the success of the strategy that the status of the profession is improved. The Government has promised parents thousands of affordable childcare places, but must realise it will be hard-pushed to find enough workers to fill them, men or women, until pay and conditions improve.
"If the country wants to care for its children properly, we have to train and pay people accordingly."
The EOC has already warned the Government that it risks sidelining men and fathers. "It's important for all children to recognise that in a modern society both men and women can care for them," said Ms Wild. "But it's especially crucial for boys to see good male role models if we are to tackle male underachievement."
The Daycare Trust agrees: "Childcare is female dominated because of the direct knock-on effect of bad pay and low-status," said spokeswoman Collette Kelleher. "As soon as childcare becomes a proper profession, with proper prospects and training, it will start to attract men."
Margaret Lochrie, the PLA's chief executive, the country's largest provider of pre-school care, said: "We will not attract good candidates of both sexes until we see a minimum wage and a proper career path."
Nursery worker Chris Randle is co-ordinator of Men who Care, the organisation for male childcare workers. He said: "Care is still seen as women's work and isn't a viable option for most men. The money is so bad men would either have to have a vocation or a partner who brought in a second wage."
* Pounds 300 million on childcare places over the next five years;
* Pounds 200m from the Lottery to set up after-school clubs;
* A free nursery place for every four-year-old from this month;
* Double the number of places available for three-year-olds from 80,000 to 160,000 by 2002;
* Help with childcare costs;
* A telephone helpline for parents.