Childcare by any other name… would removing the terminology result in lasting change?
A report by the UK Early Years Workforce Commission ‘A Workforce in Crisis: Saving Our Early Years’ is calling for ‘childcare’ terminology to be removed in favour of ‘early childhood education’, in order to avoid the sector being viewed as an option only taken to help parents return to work.
While the report has come from the United Kingdom, the findings do give support to debate within the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in Australia, adding weight to the argument that, when discussing the complex work of educators and leaders in the ECEC space, the term childcare is a simplification, and one which fails to position the sector as a phase within the education journey.
The report recommends that ‘changing the narrative’ will help not only with repositioning ECEC as a fundamental element of the education system, but could also ultimately result in disparities in pay, conditions of employment and status across the sector changing.
As in the Australian context, ECEC professionals across the UK often take on second jobs in order to make ends meet, with the report saying that many early years professionals are relying on in-work benefits such as Universal Credit and food banks.
These challenges were present, the report notes, well before the pandemic, which exacerbated the challenges in “an already vulnerable sector.”
“At the centre of these challenges sit the providers and the workforce who truly bear the brunt and continue to work in low paid, undervalued and stressful roles, which are becoming increasingly precarious as settings’ economic viability comes into question,” authors note.
As in Australia, those who responded to an early years workforce survey which formed the basis of the report said low pay was the main factor resulting in people leaving the profession, rating far higher than any other issue.
In order to make their job more rewarding, respondents said, increased pay was the biggest driver, followed by more employer recognition. 64 per cent of respondents said they had not had a pay rise for two years or more, and only 37 per cent were planning to stay in their current role.
Julie Hyde, executive director at leading sector specialists in Early Years, Care and Education, CACHE and member of the Early Years Workforce Commission, said:
“For us, this report confirms that the sector is under enormous strain and pressure, and that urgent action is required. Safeguarding the early years sector is vital in order to reap the best future for society. It’s also imperative for the recovery of our economy from the impacts of COVID-19, as early years plays a critical role in providing childcare and support for families so that parents and carers can continue to work.”
“This report’s package of recommendations are crucial to support the workforce going forward. We stand at a cross-roads within the sector and the next steps from the Government will dictate how settings, early years educators and even children can thrive in a post-COVID world.”
In order to address the concerns raised in the report, recommendations from authors include a call for the government to launch a public awareness campaign to highlight the crucial role early years staff play in a child’s development and their life chances, and to emphasise that this is a skilled role, equivalent to teaching in other phases of education.
To access the report, please see here.
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