Scots 'muddle' on childcare

4th June 2004 at 01:00
There is plenty of talk about integrating education and childcare but Scottish provision is often little more than a "fragmented muddle", far removed from high-quality, all-through provision in Sweden.

The authors of an analysis of early education and childcare in Scotland, England and Sweden, A New Deal for Children, made the claim this week, arguing that Scottish provision is being held back by the UK's market-led policies. Ironically, these have been championed by Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Fife MP and father of a young boy.

Bronwen Cohen, chief executive of Children in Scotland and co-author, said provision is often fragmented and expensive with a wide variety of providers and complex, often short-term, funding. The Scottish Parliament had put its stamp on educational policy but childcare was far less distinctive.

Dr Cohen said: "Many aspects of childcare policy, including tax credits, the Sure Start programme and qualifications for non-teaching early years staff, are determined at a UK level. Divided responsibilities for different aspects of policy have made it harder to address the education childcare split, and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Scotland's educational policies for developing a whole-child, whole-day approach."

It was much more difficult, she said, for local authorities and others to press ahead with innovative policies such as integrated community schools, which planned to pull services under the umbrella of the school.

The study finds that both Scotland and England have focused on disadvantage at the expense of successfully integrating services. North of the border, policies have been constrained by targeting investment on the poorer areas, the authors say, "while stimulating a private childcare market for working parents".

In her section on Scotland, Dr Cohen writes: "Although funding has increased significantly, the separation and multiplicity of funding streams, together with continuing expectations that provision for working parents may require only pump-priming, have continued to constitute formidable barriers to the integration of education and care."

At local level, a study in three unnamed authorities confirms that funding and sustaining services remain the biggest concerns.

Nationally, the division between education and care continues despite ministers' efforts to bring Scottish Executive responsibilities under one department. Local authorities - the main providers - are moving to more integrated models, but significant differences are already being exacerbated by the post-McCrone pay and conditions settlement for teachers.

Dr Cohen says: "The deep divide between professionally qualified teachers and the many other vocationally qualified or largely unqualified groups is reflected in levels of pay, conditions of employment and status within the services."

Nursery nurses' resentment sparked the current dispute with local authority employers.

She reaffirms recent evidence that local authority provision scores consistently higher than other providers in terms of quality. Ethos, the curriculum, learning experiences, accommodation, resources, staffing, management and quality assurance are all better, according to an inspectorate report on standards and quality.

That reality raises "significant questions" about the consistency of quality in pre-school education.

A new deal for children? Reforming education and care in England, Scotland and Sweden. By Bronwen Cohen, Peter Moss, Pat Petrie and Jennifer Wallace.

The Policy Press pound;19.99.

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