I know there are plenty of people who’ll say Nursery World readers know the early years better than anyone else.
And who better than someone who’s living the early years himself - my son. He turned up to the office and grabbed a copy of Nursery World - I thought I would take a photo of it.
I know he’s a fan - as am I - and I appreciate the hard work and dedication everyone in this room has shown in helping parents to give their children the best start in life.
And we’ve come a long way. But we are currently facing a big challenge, with a massive shift in the way we live. So now is very much the time I believe to be a childcare business, with some good opportunities.
More women than ever before have the choice, and are choosing, to work. There are 14.4 million women in work today - up 60% since the early 1970s. Around two-thirds of mothers in England now work.
And the way we work has also changed. Parents are taking advantage of flexible working and part-time working, so they can fit their work lives around their family. I believe no parent should have to choose between their career and their children. Because childcare isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a parental issue.
We also know how much the early years matter - which is why we’ve introduced flexible working and shared parental leave to help parents balance work and family.
The sector needs to offer more flexible, seamless solutions to meet these needs.
Parents want childcare that’s affordable and of the highest quality. Childcare that fits in with their commute, with shifts and freelance work. And childcare that, above all, gives them choice. Because as we all know, childcare is about more than just where you leave your child. It’s about development, and working closely with a family to give a child the very best start in life.
As such, I believe all workers today, alongside parents, are hugely important in the child’s development and upbringing. But there is also an unsung role outside the immediate family.
The evidence is mounting that childcare plays a crucial role in development, in early education and in getting children ready for school.
Of course this has knock-on effects for combatting disadvantage and for driving social mobility. So there is one message I want to get out today: it is that we have a moral mission to get this right. Which is why we all need to be prepared to take a fresh look at the issues and be open to new ideas, so you can do even better for the children in your care.
But how do we meet the challenge of a changing workforce and greater need? Some people say pouring more and more money into the sector is the answer.
There are already significant resources in the system.
There’s the free entitlement for 3- and 4-year-olds and the £755 million of funding that we’re putting into free early education for the most disadvantaged 2-year-olds this financial year.
I know that some have said that the funding we’re providing isn’t enough. And you’ve told me the rates providers get from local councils is an issue. That’s why I can announce today that we’re publishing a benchmarking tool, to show how the funding for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds is distributed across the country.
I’d urge you to look at this to see how early years funding works in your area - how much councils keep for central support, and what goes to the front line - to providers, schools, and ultimately to children.
There should be more debate at local authority level, including at schools forums. There needs to be more transparency about where this funding goes.
And there’s more money coming through. There’s the tax-free childcare scheme starting in autumn 2015 - which will see an extra £750 million going to parents to spend on childcare - to help either cut their childcare bill or buy more hours of care.
This will help just under 2 million families - twice the number that benefit from the current employer voucher scheme.
There’s also the £50 million we’re providing to extend the pupil premium into the early years. As a result, each provider that delivers early education to disadvantaged 3- or 4-year-olds will get £300 for each of those children attending full time; and a pro rata amount for those taking it part-time. There are significant resources going into the system.
Need for innovation, not just more money
But it’s not just about more money.
It’s about making the money we have work harder. About finding new and better ways of making it go further.
And that’s want I want to focus on today - innovation - and how we can harness it to deliver more value for parents and children and meet the scale of the challenge we face.
And ultimately rise to the moral mission of doing better for all children, whatever their background.
The need for innovation certainly isn’t specific to this sector. My ministerial colleagues often tell me, for example, how giving teachers more freedom to innovate has helped turn around some of our toughest schools.
We’re now seeking to do the same in children’s services and empowering social workers to make the changes they know will transform life chances.
There’s no reason why childcare should be treated differently - why shouldn’t we trust you as we trust them? - to innovate to raise standards.
So what do we mean by innovation?
For me, it means thinking beyond the silos in which we tend to operate, with the child at the centre. With nurseries, childminders, schools and other providers thinking about what they can do collectively and creatively to deliver what works for families.
And I’m delighted to see that many of you are already seizing opportunities to do just this and break new ground - by, for example, accessing social investment.
The London Early Years Foundation has, for example, received £1.25 million of funding from the Big Issue Invest and Bridges Ventures via the Cabinet Office’s (Investment and) Contract Readiness Fund.
They’ll use this to add another 10 nurseries, all working to their innovative business model, to their portfolio across London.
And last month, the charity and childcare provider 4Children became the first organisation to benefit from a £700,000 loan from the FSE Social Impact Accelerator Fund.
This will help them take on at least 50 new children’s centres and nurseries over the next 3 years, offering subsidised nursery places and support to more than 15,000 new families each year.
Excellent, enterprising examples that I hope inspire you - though, of course I realise, of course that I’m speaking to an audience - in fact, a sector - of innovators and pioneers.
Existing and growing innovation in childcare
Self starters who have set up your own businesses, who have taken out loans or put your own money on the line.
This takes guts and vision.
So you understand, better than most, just what innovation means - your track record, for example, in expanding provision in response to demographic and social changes speaks for itself.
And we don’t want you to stop innovating - and showing just what’s possible when a bit of ambition and flair can add more to it.
Look at how so many of you are working with local authorities to deliver the free entitlement with more flexibility where parents want it. By stretching delivery over 50 or 51 weeks, businesses can maximise income from parents who only want to take up 10 to 12 hours a week of their free entitlement. This gives providers more stability by increasing occupancy during holiday periods.
The extension of the 2-year-old entitlement has opened up a range of opportunities for providers to expand their businesses into new areas. It has also promoted more partnership working between local authorities and other public services to deliver social improvements.
We can see that the local authority in Stockport, for example, renovated a flat in a deprived tower block to create a hub for a range of community interventions and outreach services. A private provider now operates out of this venue to deliver early education to 16 funded 2-year-olds. The council then uses the venue in the afternoon to deliver a range of family services, operated by the children’s centre and health colleagues.
We can also see nurseries increasingly working with schools not only drive to greater efficiencies, but to also provide a more joined-up, flexible service for modern working parents.
We can see how well this works at Cobbs Brow Tiny Acorns, a fantastic new provider for 40 2-year-olds which has opened in Lancashire. This is managed by a private provider, but sits on a school site. Well done to all involved for completing the whole build in under 2 weeks, making sure that children can start their places as soon as possible.
Childminders too are starting to work more flexibly and imaginatively with schools to offer wraparound care. For example, we can see more childminder settings employing assistants. This allows them to offer more childcare places and offer more convenience for parents by helping with drop-offs and pick-ups at schools.
And having changed the rules to make it possible for childminder agencies to be established, we can see that one of these new CMAs, St Bede Academy in Bolton, is wrapping its childminder service around schools.
And we can see this more responsive approach starting to spread.
According to NDNA’s latest business survey almost 80% of nurseries are working in partnership locally to offer wraparound services, with schools beginning to become partners.
And while it’s fantastic to see such enterprise, we understand the challenge of starting, building and growing a business.
Support for businesses
Hence our efforts to create the conditions to make this easier and to help you innovate.
To this end, I’m delighted to announce today that I’m talking to the Department of Communities and Local Government to see how we can help with business rates.
And there’s a lot of help we’re providing from government. Both in the form of general business support - through, for instance, the free advice and funding, which runs into millions, being offered by BIS for small businesses looking to expand. There are also VCS grants to help grow skills in the sector. And in the form of specific measures to break down barriers.
The Ofsted inspection framework frees providers to think more radically by focusing on not how you do things, but what you achieve. We also have an EYFS regulatory framework with less red tape. And a revised role for local authorities that gives good and outstanding childcare providers freedom to think radically and raise the bar.
On top of this, we’re providing help and advice to help childcare businesses get off the ground, grow and diversify:
- through the childcare business grant scheme, which has, so far, distributed £1 million to support 29,000 new childcare places
- and through changes in regulations via the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill which make it easier for you to expand
So we’re behind you all the way. And I want to do all I can to work with you - to ensure that your businesses thrive and succeed. To help you do what you came into this job to do - to be there for parents and to transform children’s life chances. Which means taking your proven capacity for innovation up a gear - and letting me know about all the amazing, trailblazing things you’re doing to lead improvement in the sector.
As I said earlier, we have a moral mission to leave no stone unturned to provide the next generation with a better foundation for a brighter future. I know that this is your ultimate priority - it’s mine too. Which is why I’m delighted to be working with you and confident that there’s much more we can achieve together.