Nursery staff 'need qualifications'
More than 20,000 childminders and nursery workers would need to take extra qualifications to make sure that they are all providing good quality care, research suggests.
All staff working with poorer two-year-olds under a major Government scheme should be qualified to at least A-level standard, according to a report commissioned by the Sutton Trust.
The study also suggested that the Government should halt its plans to expand the free nursery places for disadvantaged two-year-olds until it can be guaranteed that they will all have access to decent quality places.
The research, by early years academics at Oxford University, looked at the future of the free places scheme.
Currently, free nursery places are offered to the poorest fifth of two-year-olds, and this due to be extended to the poorest two-fifths from September this year. It will mean that around 260,000 are eligible, compared to around 130,000 youngsters at the moment.
Oxford's report found that good quality places are not yet available for all of the 92,000 two-year-olds who are currently getting free care under the scheme.
It says that improvements to the qualifications and training of early years workers is needed if the initiative is to be expanded successfully with more good quality childcare places available.
The success of the scheme depends on the quality of staff delivering it and that every worker should have the equivalent to an A-level qualification at the minimum.
There are more than 20,000 individuals that would need to take extra courses to bring all early years staff up to this standard, which is needed to provide good quality care, the study argues.
It suggests: "This would represent the greatest shift for childminders, for whom there are currently no qualification requirements.
"Childminders have unique potential to nurture children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"However, if these children are to make progress and catch up with their more affluent peers, they will need well-qualified practitioners who can offer an intellectually stimulating as well as a nurturing environment."
The report also concludes that the expansion of the free nursery places scheme should be temporarily halted.
"Delaying the roll-out would enable current good quality provision to focus on catering for the most deprived 20% of two-year-olds, whilst allowing the time and funding to ensure that sufficient good quality provision is available to meet the needs of the 40% before this is offered as a legal entitlement," it says.
Ministers could consider expanding the scheme to 30% of two-year-olds this year, and then to 40% in 2015 or 2016, the researchers suggest.
Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "Good quality early years provision is vital to narrow the gaps that leave too many youngsters behind by the time they start school. Getting it right for the poorest two year-olds would make a big difference in improving their chances at school and in later life, and is therefore critical for social mobility."
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "We have been clear that any funding to help expand the service offered by nurseries should be directed to those rated as outstanding or good by Ofsted - something which I expect local authorities to be doing.
"We know that more than 90,000 two-year-olds are already benefiting from funded, early education and that nearly 90% of providers delivering places are rated good or outstanding.
"However, we are also doing a number of things to raise quality which includes working with Ofsted to improve and strengthen the inspection regime, reforming qualifications for those who want a career in early years education and introducing Early Years Teachers."
Liz Bayram, chief executive of childcare organisation PACEY said: " We agree that it's important for all childcare professionals, including childminders, to be well qualified.
"PACEY also believes there should be a greater focus on a childcare professionals' ongoing professional development, so their practice remains up to date. Most childminders already hold a relevant Level 3 qualification, without any regulatory requirement to do so. So reaching the report's target of an additional 20,000 practitioners having completed additional qualifications is a realistic goal.
"This can be achieved by government investing in a workforce improvement strategy that not only looks to recruit more graduates into childcare but increases support for the current workforce to build their expertise."
Davina Ludlow, Director of daynurseries.co.uk, said: "The expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds requires considerable amounts of funding and preparation.
"To ensure consistent high quality provision, workforce development and increasing staff ratios is vital.
"As today's report highlights, steps like ensuring all early years staff have access to qualifications and a Qualified Teacher Status, as well as increases in pay, would go a long way in helping to achieve this."