Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams Yn dirprwyo ar ran Julie Morgan
Substitute for Julie Morgan
Carolyn Thomas
Jane Dodds
Jenny Rathbone Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Peter Fox Yn dirprwyo ar ran Joel James
Substitute for Joel James
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Christine Pascal Cyfarwyddwr y Ganolfan Ymchwil Plentyndod Cynnar
Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood
Jane Malcolm Rheolwr Gweithrediadau Cenedlaethol, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Meithrinfeydd Dydd yr Alban
National Operations Manager, National Day Nurseries Association Scotland
Maria Jürimäe Canolfan Arloesedd Addysgol, Prifysgol Tartu, Estonia
Centre of Educational Innovation, University of Tartu, Estonia
Martha Friendly Cyfarwyddwr Gweithredol, Uned Ymchwil ac Adnoddau Gofal Plant, Toronto, Canada
Executive Director, Childcare Research and Resource Unit, Toronto, Canada
Naomi Eisenstadt Cadeirydd Bwrdd Gofal Integredig GIG Swydd Northampton
Chair, NHS Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board
Natalie MacDonald Cyfarwyddwr Academaidd Cynorthwyol ar gyfer Plentyndod, Ieuenctid ac Addysg, Prifysgol Cymru y Drindod Dewi Sant
Assistant Academic Director for Childhood, Youth and Education, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth David Thomas Ymchwilydd
Gemma Gifford Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:00.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We are a bilingual institution, so there is instant translation from Welsh to English for anybody who's joining us today. Before I go on to the discussion of today's scrutiny meeting, I'd just like to thank Altaf Hussain, Sarah Murphy and Ken Skates for their very valuable work on this committee, as they've now moved on to other responsibilities, and I very much welcome Carolyn Thomas who is joining us as a new Member, as well as Joel James and Julie Morgan, who are going to be our other substantive Members. But today Joel James is being substituted by Peter Fox—welcome—and Buffy Williams is substituting for Julie Morgan on this occasion. So, welcome to everybody.

2. Ymchwiliad dilynol ar ofal plant: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
2. Childcare follow-up inquiry: evidence session 3

This is the third evidence session we've done on our childcare follow-up inquiry, and I'm very pleased to welcome Jane Malcolm, the national operations manager for the National Day Nurseries Association Scotland, and Martha Friendly, joining us from Toronto in Canada, who is the executive director of Childcare Resource and Research Unit, based in Toronto. We're also hoping to be joined by Maria Jürimäe at the University of Tartu in Estonia, but at the moment, we're having technical difficulties getting hold of her, so we hope that they are going to get resolved before too long.

So, I'm going to just start off the questions before I bring in other Members. I wonder if you can both outline how early years education and care operates in your nation, and detail any changes in this over the recent years. So, is it integrated, a partnership arrangement or a collaborative arrangement? So, Martha, would you like to start off, telling us about Canada?

Yes, I will start off. The first thing you should know is that it's in complete transition across the country right now. So, I'll tell you what it's been. First of all, Canada is a federation, so there are 10 provinces and three territories that have the responsibility for designing and operating all early childhood education and childcare programmes and other social programmes. So, we've never had a childcare system across the country. We've never had public funding as such; we've had bits and pieces of public funding. There have always been shortages and quality issues and so forth and so on.

So, there has been activity towards a Canada-wide quality programme for many years, but during the pandemic, when there was quite a crisis in our childcare provision due to closures and staff layoffs, and they were closed down for a period of time, the national Government, the federal Government in Ottawa, stepped in and announced that they would pull together a Canada-wide childcare programme, which they are able to do, and they actually committed quite a substantial chunk of money to get the process started over the first five years, and they're not permitted—. It's not custom for the federal Government to step in and manage a social programme like childcare, so it's more by what's called the federal spending power: 'Here's the money, these are the directions that we want to go in. Do you agree, provinces? Let's work on it together.'

So, there have been some major successes, but we're just really in the first phase. We have a lot of reflections on what has been done, what can be done, as well as having learned from many countries over the years. I think I'll stop there, but I will say that everything is in transition right now, so maybe that will make a contribution, actually; I think it may. And I guess I should say that different parts of the country are in different stages of development, so you may have heard that Quebec is further developed, and Quebec is a bit of a special case within Canada, which is what allowed it to develop further. So, I'm sure we'll have some questions about that, and I'll just leave that very complicated story right there.


Very good. I should have said, Martha, that we have, obviously, all read your paper, which is extremely useful at giving us some of the detail. So, it's really just to probe why you did X rather than Y. Jane Malcolm, could I bring you in in terms of how integrated childcare is going in Scotland, because you're a bit further along?

Of course you can. A bit further along, yes. In 2016 the Scottish Government committed to doubling funded childcare from 600 hours up to 1,140. That would be 30 hours term time, or 22 if parents decided to take it over a full year, and that was to be done by 2020. Now, obviously, that didn't happen because of the pandemic, so it kicked off in 2021. It's universal, so there are no criteria, all children are entitled—all three and four-year-olds—they're all entitled to that funded childcare. We have eligible two-year-olds; however, that is linked to benefit criteria at the moment. It's a small number, it's not that well taken up at the moment. However, they're looking at how to expand that later.

Basically, they said that the principles of it are quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability for parents. That sometimes works, sometimes doesn't work, and I'm in no doubt we'll get to those issues later. We did have legislation in February 2021 that allowed parents to defer their children's moving on to school, and that would have that one-year funded continuation of their funding. The Scottish Government, which I'm sure you can appreciate is having a few difficulties today in the Scottish Parliament—I'll leave that there. So, basically, they've committed to expanding the two-year-old offer to a wider criteria to try and encourage more uptake with the two-year-olds.

It's been working for about two years now, we're moving into the second year. There are issues around funding, workforce. It's devolved to 32 different local authorities, so I'm sure you can imagine that's a bit of a challenge, because they all have different ways of doing things, and the Scottish Government have their criteria for them delivering the childcare. That's a very brief summary of what it looks like, but it's a good policy. I don't think there's anybody that doubts it's a good policy; the delivery of it is the challenge.

In terms of your top line of the aims is to improve children's outcomes and help close the poverty-related attainment gap, how successful have you been in enabling people from less well-off families to ensure that they are getting this valuable service?

I think it varies in different parts of Scotland. I've no doubt we'll get on to rural and island communities later—that's a bigger challenge, because there's maybe not that accessibility, it's maybe more difficult for people to get access. In the towns, Edinburgh, Glasgow, it's probably been more successful. Obviously, the Scottish Government have the child payment as well, which adds to that and supports that, but, yes, I think it's a real mixed picture across Scotland.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, a dwi am ofyn y cwestiwn yn Gymraeg. Felly, diolch yn fawr iawn i'r ddwy ohonoch chi. Gaf i jest fynd yn ôl i'r Alban a gofyn sut dŷch chi'n mesur darparu gofal plant a'r sefyllfa dlodi hefyd? Oes gennych chi ryw—? Dŷch chi'n gweld yr effaith, a sut dŷch chi'n gweld yr effaith?

Thank you very much, and I want to ask my question in Welsh. So, thank you very much to you both. Just go back to Scotland and ask how do you measure or assess the childcare provision and the poverty situation as well? Are you seeing the impact of that, and how are you seeing that impact?

I'm going to drop my headphones just for a second. We have a system in Scotland called SEEMiS, where they measure what's actually happening in terms of how many children are in childcare and how many hours are taken, and that sort of thing. We also have Growing Up in Scotland, which is a longitudinal study that's been carried out with, I think—. They're on several cohorts now, where they're following children through different age groups. And that's one of the ways that the Scottish Government are measuring what the impact is from policies like the early years policy. So, they gather lots and lots of information around that and the Scottish Childminding Association, which is the sort of childcare system, feeds into that, as well. And that allows us to work out what the outcomes are for children, because they do different age and stage surveys with these children, but they also look at families and they look to see the impact on poverty and workforce.


Okay. Can I ask, Martha, obviously, the Childcare Resource and Research Unit has got social justice and tackling poverty as part of its remit, so how successful do you think you can say that the Canadian model is at addressing that poverty attainment gap?

Well, let me answer that in a couple of parts. First of all, we don't have coverage of childcare; we have a low coverage of childcare—children who actually have a place, even though we've reduced the fees drastically to make them more affordable, and that would be true across the country. I wouldn't say that they're entirely affordable everywhere, because that process isn't finished, but it's a lot better. But, if you're looking for regulated childcare, let alone quality childcare, we are not anywhere near there yet. And because we haven't had an intentional policy about where childcare is located, for example, it's less likely to be found in low-income communities.

So, I guess what I'd like to say about this is that we—and I think everybody—regard access to quality childcare as a piece of reducing poverty—letting mothers go to work, letting children have a positive experience. But we can't say yet that we are in a position to have made childcare accessible, particularly to more marginalised families. I mean, our data is actually not very good on this, but a piece of work that I did fairly recently did look at newcomer families who are very—. There are many newcomers in Canada; we have a lot of immigrants to Canada. Racialised families, indigenous families and low-income families generally, generally have lower access to regulated childcare for a variety of reasons, although that was never the intention. So, I guess I would answer that I would say it's mixed. We've made it much more affordable, but not completed that process yet, because there are families who can't afford anything, and we haven't really completed that piece yet, but we certainly haven't tackled—. We are in the process of tackling intentional expansion where it's needed, which we think is an important piece of the policy, and, of course, that's being hampered by the issue of the childcare workforce, and I think this is true everywhere, that it always was difficult to get and retain people to work in childcare—qualified, educated, early childhood educators—partly because of the low wages and the poor working conditions. The pandemic has made that more difficult, so I would say that that's a work in progress. I don't know if that's a good enough answer, but we are not yet serving—. Our goal is universal, inclusive, quality childcare for everybody, and that is very uneven at this stage of development. I guess I'd say there's a lot more to that. It's not intentional, but it hasn't been developed well enough yet.

Okay. Just before I move on to Maria Jürimäe from Estonia, could I just ask, you say that eight provinces or territories have already moved to a maximum fee of CA$10 a day. Is that still a barrier for those who are living in poverty?

Yes, it is. I should say that every province and territory has a programme underneath that that subsidises the fees for lower income families, but those programmes have always had a lot of gaps in them, so it's not yet well enough developed. I mean, if you could see something that started at zero and went up to a maximum fee, which is what the CA$10 a day is, then you could see that process. So, that's what I mean: that there are programmes to actually support lower income families, but there might not be any provision of childcare that's available to them, and, also, it might still be too expensive for them to be able to afford. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I think that the policies that we still are carrying over from the old days—the market days—take a long time to work through. If you look at countries with well-developed systems, it just takes working on many other pieces for some years and pulling them all in the same direction. So, I guess my answer is 'yes and no'.


Yes, a work in progress.

I'd like to welcome Maria Jürimäe from the University of Tartu in Estonia. Obviously, Estonia has been on a massive journey, starting from a very low base to now having, probably, the best early years education service in the whole of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries—certainly one of. So, I wondered whether you could just tell us what you're able to on what impact it had on closing the attainment gap based on poverty that you'd get normally.

Thank you and hello from Tartu, Estonia. Firstly, I would like to say that, actually, our early years education has much stepped forward, but it has been quite nice already for 100 years, because we had some kindergarten already before the Soviet time. During the Soviet period, when it became totally 'all women working and all children to a kindergarten', then, luckily, in Estonia we had some people from our first republic, from the 1920s, who had studied near Montessori and Froebel, and all of those things, and our kindergartens were, even in Soviet times, quite child centred. Soviet programmes were very prescriptive and—[Inaudible.]—and so on. At school, we had to adopt Soviet programmes, but, in kindergarten, and I don't know how they managed it, the programmes were written by local ladies from our first independence, so they were quite child centred and play based.

How do I know it? Well, because my mum was a kindergarten teacher and kindergarten teacher trainer, and I know that those older ladies taught us those forbidden songs. We had this double culture, so when we got independence, actually, we didn't need to reinvent the wheel; we just went back openly to those old values, and I think that's why our kindergarten is nicely child centred; it's educational, but it has never been a small school. In Estonia, children from two to seven go to kindergarten, because our mothers can be at home until three and they won't lose their jobs, and for the first one-and-a half-years they get the full mother's salary. If they save a bit, for many months, they don't need very early care.

We still have some places, like private places, still for early care, but kindergarten usually takes children from one and a half or two to seven, and 94 per cent, or something like this, from four years old, and 97 per cent at six or seven, attend. It's not free, of course, but, compared to some other countries, in smaller places it can be €60 or €70 per month, and in towns it could—it depends on the kindergarten—be €110 or €140. It's something that's quite affordable, actually. Eating is included, and it's a whole-day kindergarten, so they can go from 08:00 to 17:00 or so; most of the children don't, but some parents need it. If people have some problems, like they've lost their job or they're in poverty, then the local municipality will pay entirely for those children, so the parents don't need to pay anything.

Okay, so, where somebody needs extra help, then it's completely free. Excellent. 

Yes, they need to apply.

Obviously, they need to apply, but assuming they have met that need, then it's free. Excellent. I'm going to call Jane Dodds now. We think Maria has translation, but we're not certain.


Wel, fe wnaf i drio gofyn y cwestiynau yn Gymraeg a gweld os yw Maria yn gallu deall.

Well, I'll try to ask my questions in Welsh and just see if Maria can understand.

Maria, are you getting translation? Excellent. Very good. Go ahead, Jane.

Gwych. Felly, dwi eisiau, os yw hi'n iawn, gofyn i'r tair ohonoch chi, o'ch gwlad chi, beth yw'r elfennau gorau yn y maes yma, ym maes gofal plant, efallai y byddai Cymru yn gallu dysgu ohonynt? Beth ydych chi'n meddwl ydy'r elfennau gorau o ran eich polisïau chi yn y maes yma? Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf.

Excellent. Therefore, if it's okay, I want to ask the three of you, from your nation, what are the best elements in this area, in the childcare area, that perhaps Wales could learn from? What do you think are the best elements with regard to your policies in this area? I don't know who wants to go first.

I think we should take Maria first, in case the technical—. Maria, and then we'll go to Jane.

Do you want to go first, Maria?

Ydych chi eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?

Do you want to go first?

Okay, I can start. I think, in Estonia, it's the culture of early care and education. It's a nice mixture of those Froebelian play-based ideas mixed with now Reggio Emilia and all those child-centred things, and at the same time very strong foundations of passing out the culture, as in your case, like our language and all those things that are almost sacred, and all those things and emotions and songs. Not so much even literacy, but emotions connected to reading and having those nice attitudes,I think might be one of our keys to getting higher results at PISA later, building those things at early years. Also, I think that we have very good kindergarten teachers. Many of them have Master's degrees, and some of them even have doctorate degrees. They are smart ladies.

A lot like what Maria was saying, I would say, in Scotland, we've got a very strong play-based, child-centred approach to childcare. Obviously, we've just had the UNCRC incorporation Bill turned into an Act. We're looking to that happening in July. I would say the early years in Scotland, early learning and childcare practitioners, have been delivering that real child's-rights approach for many, many years. That is something that I think is a very strong aspect of our practice in Scotland. Our underpinning policy, GIRFEC, which is getting it right for every child, is a rights-based approach to anybody that's working with children, which really makes a strong base for practice.

The other thing that I would say is that we do have that highly qualified workforce as well, but, alongside that, we also have the Scottish Social Services Council, the SSSC—it makes our life easier to say that—which allows for registration for the workforce. So, you cannot work in childcare in Scotland without having the right qualifications for the role that you're in. That support is really strong in continuous professional learning as well. So, I think having that—having people who really understand what it is they're doing and why they're doing it for children—and having that real focus on child development as part of that CPL and part of the training, really, really help make it a good place for children to grow up and learn, as we would say in Scotland.

I guess I would say that a lot of the best things we have are the intentions and the directions, because it's very hard to say about Canada that, 'This is the way it is.' In a way, Wales is like a province, essentially, in the sense that you have, in your Government, our federal Government and our provincial Government together. So, let me just emphasise that. One of the things that I think is a very positive thing is that we're in a position, because it's taken so long for Canada to move from this mixed market that we have trying to make it into more of an accessible system, is that we can observe what other countries have done, and even what some parts of Canada have done, and this, I do think, gives us a lens on what to do and what not to do.

I really want to emphasise that one of the things that I do think we have in the direction, is that we understand that it's really a complex policy. It's not just about giving parents money, or getting money to parents to enable to them to use childcare for a certain number of hours, but much more to develop the services that people can actually use at a fee that they can afford, essentially. So, we see it being a process, and I do think that this has been accepted as the policy direction. There are many pieces to it, as you have to enable parents to use it financially and you have to make it inclusive of all Canadians, which is really mixed, as I said. Culture is very important for some, and very important, for example, for the indigenous communities, so that it has to be their programme and they have to shape it—that's not only cultural, but political in Canada, and constitutional—and that it will move forward incrementally in that way, but that it's necessary to do that. And this is from observing other countries. Otherwise, if you just leave it up to parents who are now financially enabled to use childcare, and you don't develop the services, and you don't develop the workforce, you won't end up with a system that people can use. So, I think that's one of our advantages and one of our best characteristics.

And I guess the other thing I wanted to say is the emphasis on inclusivity, which is very Canadian. It not only would extend, as it does in early childhood education, to children with disabilities and other special needs, but to cultural inclusion, as I identified before, so that it would be people who are more marginalised—the idea is we're all in this together. Canada's a pretty egalitarian country—we really strive for that. And I think that that's a very important part of going forward with developing a proper system. I think those are our best assets. They don't make it simple, but I think that they're worth it.


Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ac wedyn gaf i ofyn hefyd am y sefyllfa ariannol yn eich gwlad chi yn y maes yma? Sut ydych chi'n talu am hyn, os gwelwch yn dda? Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd eisiau mynd.

Thank you very much. And then may I ask also about the financial situation in your nation in this area? How do you pay for this, please? I don't know who wants to go first.

Maria, would you like to go first?

In Estonia, it's mostly covered by local municipalities, but they are getting money from state taxes, and then they can make their own budgets. And also parents pay, but it's really moderate, monthly. In most of the places in Estonia, it's less than €100 per month, so it's not very bad.

Thank you so much. 

Diolch. Jane, yn yr Alban.

Thank you. Jane, in Scotland.

In Scotland, the initial budget comes from the Scottish Government. That is set at Scottish Government level, and then it's devolved down to the local authorities, so the local authorities then have the responsibility of delivering the early learning and childcare policy. So, that funding is then given to each local authority, and they work with providers, who become their funded providers through contracts—they develop a contract with them—and that funding is then given to the settings.

Parents don't have access to that funding, they don't hold that money at all; it's all claimed between the provider and the local authority. That's for three and four-year-olds, and there are no top-up fees added to that fund, that amount of money—that's what they get for 1,140 hours. They have a sustainable rate for each local authority. And, as I said at the beginning, we have 32 local authorities, so we have 32 different funding rates, and some cover what's required, some don't cover what's required. So, a lot of the gaps in the funding—and we think there’s about £1.25 of a gap on average—that then has to be paid for by our one and two-year-olds who are not covered by the funded rate. So, we do have that slight inflation of those rates, which makes it more difficult.

Where our concern is, we’ve had a commitment from the Scottish Government that they will expand the one and two-year-old offer to make it a wider offer to more parents, to include more children, but in doing that, if we take away that opportunity for providers to charge rates for one and two-year-olds, we will then have a bigger problem with funding. So, as I said earlier, we really think the policy’s a good policy for parents, but the funding, there are a lot of issues around the funding in terms of making sure it covers what providers need to provide that high-quality childcare that parents should expect.


Thank you.

Ac wedyn, Martha—

And then, Martha—

I think you touched on this a little bit.

Before we had the new policy, which began in 2021, we did have public funding from each province and territory that actually funded programmes. So, I’m not talking about any money that went directly to parents. That was rated the lowest amongst the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in a UNICEF report in 2008, actually. It was one of the lowest public funding for children zero to five. There’s this benchmark that’s always been used by the EU of at least 1 per cent of GDP for children zero to five for EC programmes. So, we were at about 0.03, actually.

With the new funding from the federal Government, the way that works is it’s done on a per capita basis, and a share of it goes to each of the 13 provinces and territories, based on population. They devised the way to use it by flowing it to programmes to operate. So, none of this money is demand side that goes to parents.

Now, each one of them has come up with their own scheme for how they fund services in their province and territory, and so that would mean funding them to make them much more affordable for parents, which was required. It also requires expansion. It also requires raising the wages and working conditions of the childcare workforce. So, even though it was a huge amount of money when it was announced in 2021—. This isn’t Canadian dollars, so to translate it into euros would be maybe about half, more or less. It was $30 billion over a five-year period and it accelerated over time to account for expansion. It's apparent that it’s not enough. It’s certainly double what it was. It’s huge. It’s enough to work with, but it’s not really enough to adequately address the workforce issues nor the expansion issues—such things as capital funding for building new facilities.

Since that time, the federal Government, actually just in the last budget a couple of weeks ago, announced capital funding that will work the same way, and that is still being sorted out, exactly how that’s going to work. But I guess it’s obvious when you look at, actually, the amount of money, has it even reached 1 per cent of GDP in terms of public money? It hasn’t yet. It probably shouldn’t in the very earliest days, because you need to use the money effectively before you put all the money into the system.

So, again, it’s a work in progress. The way the money works is from the federal Government, to the provinces, to the service providers. And I should just mention in there one thing is that one of the stipulations from the federal Government was that the expansion should be for public and not-for-profit service providers, and that was a big part of it. I wouldn’t say that that’s going extremely well, but it is even part of the legislation. But that, again, is being worked out, on how that’s going to happen. We think that’s an important piece of it, and that it’s an important piece of the public policy.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ac wedyn cwestiwn olaf gennyf i—

Thank you very much. And then a last question from me—

Oh, Maria, did you want to add something? Yes.

Also, in Estonia, the money doesn't go to parents; it goes from municipalities to those kindergartens. And most of them are still municipal, but some are private kindergartens that have made an agreement with the local municipality. And to get this state and local support, the kindergarten has to meet special criteria, like having an educated workforce and environment. So, it can go to parents only when they have built a nice private kindergarten in their host centre, offering it to some—. And it sometimes happens in very small places, but it's very rare.


Thank you. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Y cwestiwn olaf gennyf fi. A oes yna, yn eich barn chi, fylchau yn y polisïau yn eich gwlad chi yn y maes yma? Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf? Martha. Ie, diolch yn fawr iawn.  

Thank you. And the final question from me. Are there, in your view, any particular gaps in policies in these areas in your nation? Who would like to go first? Martha. Thank you. 

I think there are many gaps in our policy that are all being—. As I said, it's a work in progress. So, I think that there are gaps around, once somebody gets to the provinces, to the services, exactly how it's used, because it's still patchwork. So, it's essentially being used to replace what were parent fees before, which are not zero—they're much lower. And some of it is just money that's add-on. For example, across the country there is recognition that the wages of the educators need to be raised, but a lot of that has been done as add-on to budgets, even though it's a quarter of the budget. So, I think that we need more work on financial policies, how that works. I think we need more work on exactly how we're going to support the workforce, because we know what the issues are, we know what the problems are, but haven't quite figured out yet how to deal with them in a systemic way.

And I guess the other thing is that we have lots of bits and pieces of programmes. I should mention this—I guess I didn't say this before—that we also have, in addition to licensed and regulated childcare, we have kindergarten across the country, which was always a programme for five-year-olds for 2.5 hours a day. So, it's a programme entirely for children. It wasn't for mothers or parents' labour force participation. We now have an increasing number of four-year-olds in that programme, in what we call kindergarten programmes that are under the school system. How they come together with childcare, which is under different ministries, is—. It is known that they should be working—. We should have integration, and their efforts at that, there's a lot of childcare located in schools, but it's still a very patchwork programme. It's, 'Here's a programme for this purpose and a programme for that purpose', and I think we're still trying to bring them together. 

We have many gaps in policies, which isn't surprising because this programme has just started, and if you look at countries that have mature systems like Denmark, for example, a lot of these countries, it's taken them a decade or 15 years to build a system. Our aim is to build a system, and I think that that would be—. I mean, I'm not Government—I'm not the federal Government at all—but I think the aim of the federal Government is to build a system that's high quality and accessible to everybody. 

Hi. Yes, I think there are a couple of things—well, there are quite a few things—in the Scottish policy, firstly around workforce. You'll have read in my paper about the commitment from the Scottish Government for £16 million further, to pay that £12 to all providers in private and voluntary organisations. That in itself, whilst it was good, it was a good thing to come along, at the time it came along it was to pay what we call the real living wage, but the real living wage has gone up to £12, so actually it should be covered by that funding rate anyway. So, it's not really additional funding. So, we've now got providers who are in a position of still not having enough to be able to pay their staff that £12.

We've also got local authorities who can't meet that level because they've got their own budget constraints. So, there's an issue around that. Even with that £12, we've still got a huge gap in terms of what people in the same role are earning in local authority settings and what they're earning. And coming back to the children's rights, the UNCRC, that's going to be something that we can question, because is a child who is in the local authority worth more than a child that's in the private sector, given it's a local authority provision that they're both in, effectively? So, there's a real issue around that. Just as an example, a full-time early years officer can earn up to £36,000 in the local authority, whereas in the private sector it's closer to £30,000. So, you can see that there is a big gap there. So, that's one of the things. And having that funding hasn't resolved problems. So, it's how do we actually look at what the underlying problems are in terms of the workforce, not having enough people coming through that pipeline, which is something that we're looking at.

The other thing that we have a real issue around is that local authorities both provide the childcare but they also procure the childcare, and that causes a little bit of tension, because private voluntary settings who are providing that childcare question how can one organisation provide and procure it. Part of our policy is that the provision is provider neutral, so that should allow for parental choice. So, if a parent chooses to have a child in a private or voluntary organisation, because they want childcare all year and they need it from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. or whatever, they should have that opportunity. But that often doesn't happen in local authorities, depending on the provision that they have themselves—you know, is there enough provision around to make that provider neutral? And that goes for child minders as well. We also have child minders in the mix to make that blended childcare.

So, yes, those are two bigger issues. We have that funding issue every year—there's just not enough. We've got 70 per cent of our members who tell us that the sustainable rate is just not enough; it's never enough to cover what they actually need to cover. So, there are a lot of things there, and it always comes back to money; it always comes back to that funding and how you actually provide that. I'm sure Wales will be the same, but the Scottish Government are really struggling in terms of financial budgets. So, yes, it does unfortunately always come back to funding. But those I would say are our major issues in Scotland at the moment.


Thank you, Jane. Right, I think we need to move on to Buffy Williams now, or we're going to run out of time.

Thank you, Chair. I think you've all, basically, answered my first question, so I'll move on to my second question, and that is to Jane. Your paper says that, in Scotland, Government funding does not cover providers' costs, and that an unsustainable level of funding is causing settings to close. This issue has also been raised with us by witnesses from Wales. So, can you outline what potential solutions or funding models might be required to address the situation?

Yes. One of the things that we would suggest, the NDNA, is that we would have—. Obviously, we can't have a national funding rate because different local authority areas require that different funding, in terms of whether you are rural, or whether you're inner city. One of the things that we've suggested to the Scottish Government is that we have a childcare account, so that the parent is in control of what funding—. So, the parent has that, and what our account idea is, or the childcare passport, as we call it, is that any of the other funding, like the childcare choices funding, or your tax—your childcare tax—all that money that you would have, could come into that account for the parent. They've not got access to the actual money, but the money is sitting in that account for them. So, that would allow for that real provider-neutral choice. They could then, if they wanted to take some of their hours in a local authority setting, some with a child minder, that would be made easier.

One of the major issues we are facing at the moment is cross-border places. So, we have some children who will come from West Lothian Council, for example, and their parents work in Edinburgh, so the parent wants to take a place in Edinburgh. However, the City of Edinburgh Council have now said that they won't pay for private and voluntary cross-border places. So, you then have real issues for the parents—how do they get their funding, where do they get their funding, what local authority? Whereas if they had that childcare passport then they would be able to take that funding wherever would be appropriate. So, it's almost taking out that level of the local authority. So, it would take away that problem with the local authority actually providing the childcare and procuring the childcare, because it would come directly from Scottish Government to the childcare passport.


Thank you, that's really interesting. Thank you for that answer. My next question is to you all: how are different aspects of early years education and care provision integrated in your nation, and what policies do your nations' Governments have in place in relation to this? And we'll start with Martha, please.

I'm finding it a little—. Could you repeat that? I'm finding it hard to hear. It's not clear, that's all, I'm finding. Sorry.

A little bit quiet. It was a little bit quiet.

Yes, that's better. It's very indistinct. It was very indistinct, actually.

Okay. So, let me repeat it. How are you—? What is your strategy for integrating early years education and care, in your nation? You've touched a little bit on this earlier, but it'd be useful to—. What is your strategy for, or what is the federal Government's strategy for, integrating them?

Okay. I'm not sure the federal Government has a strategy for integrating them, but let me tell you how one could integrate them. Kindergarten in our country is not intended to be childcare for working parents; it's always intended to be early childhood education for children. Even though a lot of it is now a full school day, it really doesn't take parents' schedules into account. And we have wraparound programmes, but some of them are for children as young as three, and that might not be the best thing. I mean, I would envision—and I think other people, policy experts working in this, to actually—. One possibility—. It would work better to have a programme for four-year-olds and a—. You know, that children were not in multiple programmes. So, I can envision making the kindergarten programmes more suited to covering parents' schedules across the board and having childcare be for younger children, and after-school programmes for school-age children, which is the way it now is.

I think that there's a really mixed bag, and, in that happening, children fall through the cracks, parents fall through the cracks. I don't think that there's a clear policy yet on how to integrate them, but I think that among the thinking amongst policy people would be that a lot of the policy would actually be simplifying what's available, instead of having multiple programmes, so that parents—. You have parents taking their children from one programme to another programme, or programmes picking children up at the kindergarten half day to take them to the childcare, and I think that those are the kinds of things that need to be worked out.

I just want to say that I wanted to say something when Jane was talking. Can I say something in response to what Jane was saying about—? I'll leave it, because I really don't—

Yes. I think come back to it, because we're running out of time, so—

But that's what I think. I think the thinking is that they really need to be simplified, so that there's clear coverage across the board, and that there are not all these multiple innovative programmes that get started as bits and pieces all the time. We have lots of innovative programmes, but then they end up creating a lot of difficulty.

So, I guess that's what I would say: is they need to be simplified and integrated and made more available.

Yes. We describe ours as early learning and childcare, so it's all one. They don't go to different places, they're all—. You go into nursery, whether that's local authority or whether it's private or voluntary, and it's less about teaching and more about early learning. Unless it's a school—if it's a local authority setting, you would have an early years teacher—but, in the private and voluntary sector, we have early years pedagogues. So, we have people with childhood studies degrees, childhood practice degrees, so they have that early childhood development. That's why it's early learning and childcare; we wouldn't separate the two out. We have practice guidance in realising the ambition, and that's for zero to up to eight, and then we also have the overlap of the Curriculum for Excellence, and underpinning all of that we have GIRFEC, which I was talking about earlier, Getting It Right For Every Child. So, it's all about that early learning and moving the children. So, it's less about teaching in those early years. I hope that's helpful.


I agree with Jane. In Estonia, it's similar. Early learning and care, it's from two to seven. We call it kindergarten, but it's not like school—learning maths by dice games, learning literature by just the telling of stories and nursery rhymes and whatever—and right now our governmental policy is that, because kindergarten usually starts at two, then from one to two we have some private care centres, but they now would be integrated into this early care and education system and they also need to prepare curricula, and they are a bit nervous about how to do it. But, actually, from the very early years it's easier, but then the state can provide that those people also have some better qualifications and preparation to work with young children.

Okay. Thank you. My next question is to Maria also. Could you tell us—? The mixed system that you've just mentioned in the kindergarten, could you tell us what benefits this system provides, please?

This system, it's considering the development of young children, because parents can bring children there from 8 a.m. in every kindergarten, and some groups are even open from 7 a.m. for parents who go to work early, and then until 6 p.m. and sometimes until 9 p.m., one group is, for a kindergarten. So, actually, it's the whole day, but these playing and learning activities are mostly child-initiated, child-centred, like they're building some castles or whatever. It's not like small lessons, but teachers have been thinking about it and they are tracking it and doing pedagogical documentation and so on. So, I think it's quite a nice system. Some parents, of course—. After lunch, they have this nap time, and some parents take their children home, but most of them have a long day, and so it's—. Yes.

Just further to that, can I just ask: does it work better, or are they usually based around education settings, the wraparound childcare in each country? So, in Estonia, your kindergarten for two to seven, is that—? I suppose that doesn't matter, because that's quite a long period of education, but I'm just thinking, in Scotland or in Canada, just for that wraparound care and transporting children between settings and, as a parent or a guardian, making sure that it's consistent, is it better around the school or education setting? Could I ask Jane first? I think she put her hand up.

Yes. I would say that we tend to have parents who will drop children at nursery, at their private nursery at, say, 8 o'clock in the morning, and then with some children we have blended places, blended placements, so some children will be taken to a local authority nursery for a few hours and then go back to the private and voluntary nurseries. That's often done. There will be several children, perhaps, who will do that. Quite often, parents will move their child to a local authority nursery in the year before they move to school so that they can get used to friends that they might have in their class when they go to school, but then they go back. But often they don't; often they just stay in the one setting because they have links with the schools. And if they're in the local authority, again, there's that reciprocal, they'll take them back to the voluntary nursery if that's the blended placement that the parents want for the child. So, I think the way we have it is it's very easy for either; there's not a better one or the other. The settings work together.

Okay. Thanks, Jane. Martha, have you got anything to add on to that?

Yes. I think that the point of the model would be—. I mean, for one thing, we have parental leave, paid parental leave, which isn't—. It's far from perfect, but the norm is about a year, and then there's some things around the edges—more taken by the mother. It's rare to find babies in childcare under a year now in Canada; it wouldn't be the norm. So, it would generally be that the parent would be trying to find something that goes up to the time the child goes to kindergarten as part of the school system. I just want to say for sure that when we say 'kindergarten as part of the school system', our kindergarten tends to be play based. It's not very didactic. In general, that's true, and in general we have pretty good curriculum frameworks for both childcare and kindergarten. It may not be the same, but they're in the same direction. They tend to be constructivist programmes. But that's the direction it's going in.

I think the problem is that a lot of parents are still patching things together because they don't have many options. So, the kind of thing that Jane is describing, where they take them from one thing to the other, may not be just voluntary on the parents' part. Maybe that's all they can do. So, I guess what I'm trying to get across is that we're trying to make sure that there are enough places that can accommodate children, where the settings are relatively common in terms of what their goals are and what their methods are, but it's not really in place yet. The ideal would be that a child would get an affordable, good-quality space that's play based, that carries a child up to the time of school. That programme might be able to accommodate the children around the edges of kindergarten, like at the end of the day. It might have, but rarely would have, extended hours, the kind of thing that I think Jane was talking about, that goes to 9 o'clock—there are some. So, I think what we're trying to do is move it in the direction of more integration, more commonality, more consensus about what a good pedagogical approach is for young children. And I should say that the general prevailing view in Canada is that the purpose of early childhood education is to build a better baby so they do well in their future schooling and life. I think it's much more consistent. This is the prevailing view that Jane and Maria are describing.


To make it a bit more realistic about Estonia, yes, we have this nice, child-centred kindergarten, but in our major towns, like Tallinn especially, we have some schools that parents think are better, and then those schools—. It starts around seven, and they offer some preparation classes for four and five-year-olds. Some parents take their children from kindergarten and leave twice per week for those classes. They are paid. And, actually, they won't guarantee that the child can study in this school, but parents think, 'At least I have done everything I can do.' 

We have that too.

I was just going to say we have that too, but I would say we've been working really hard in Scotland to try and bring parents along with the idea that the children don't need to be able to read and write before they go off to school. That's something that will come later. It's that early emergent literacy and numeracy that's important.

It's fascinating to listen to you. I want to just explore a little bit around your systems and how they tackle inequalities and address barriers to access. So, I was just wondering, which aspects of your systems, or in Martha's case past systems, have been most successful in contributing towards supporting children from deprived backgrounds? Martha, do you want to come in? 

Let me start. That would have multiple parts. One would be financial accessibility, which we've tackled but not finished, as I said. It would be physical accessibility, that there has to be a programme—I would say a good-quality programme—particularly for children who come from deprived backgrounds. I think that's the place where we are now. It's not that we're falling down; all the intentions are to do that, but it just hasn't happened yet. In order to do that, you have to have some concept of planning where childcare services are going to go. I've been part of doing some research on childcare deserts, and we have whole areas, much bigger than Wales, that are complete childcare deserts, where there's no regulated childcare at all. Parents make do, and they use all kinds of unlicensed care, though they may not want to, and so on. We regard that as an important part of making a universal system—that you have to make it for everybody. And that might mean different things with different groups of people. As I said, with people from the indigenous communities in Canada, there’s a big cultural element, and an autonomy in terms of guiding the programmes element. So, I think we’re making steps. I think there’s recognition, but it hasn’t happened yet. I think the next couple of years are going to be critical for making those things happen.


Just stretching that same question into additional learning needs and disabilities, would it be that same sort of process you've got to undertake?

I remember when the OECD reviewed Canada as part of the thematic review, I wrote the background paper. We identified inclusion of children with disabilities, in particular, as something, in a sense, that is a strength. It’s not perfect, but there has always been a strong recognition that this is a key part of running a quality programme. There’s a lot of work that’s done on inclusion of children with disabilities or related special needs—not inclusion of diversity and so on. I think that that’s a strength, but, again, it doesn’t extend to everybody. It’s relatively well done. It’s not that it’s in hand, but there is policy to accommodate that in some variation across Canada. Again, it's not a finished story, but it’s a recognition, and there's quite good work done on inclusion.

Thank you, Martha. Maria, perhaps the same question for you. What are the aspects of your system that would help most in supporting children from deprived backgrounds, but also, perhaps, from the additional learning needs and the disability side of things? And then we’ll come to Jane straight after. Thank you. 

We didn’t have any kindergarten deserts after the Soviet time, because we had a network of them. But right now, actually, in very small places, sometimes we have problems like a kindergarten for six children and can we find an educated teacher for them. So, it may arise. But mostly, with those children from deprived families, they put the children into kindergarten when they are two, or even one and a half, because the mother's salary ends. And our kindergarten teachers are aware that the first year is the most important, but you can do a lot until three, and when they get the environment and speech and books and care, then, I think, actually, it can be one of the keys that our 15 years are good, that most of our children reach this.

But what about inclusive education? It has changed a lot compared to the Soviet time, because, then, those kids were separated into special institutions. Now, for 30 years, we have done more and more inclusion. But I think there’s still a long way to go, especially the inclusion of the non-Estonian speakers, because our kindergarten teachers have a lot of freedom, but it means, also, that we have had, until now, Russian-speaking kindergartens, and they are culturally quite different, and this kind of inclusion can be challenging.

And Jane, the aspects of your system that have been beneficial. 

The Scottish Government, at the moment, are funding six local authority areas as early adopter communities. That's looking at all-age childcare. So, it's looking at childcare from nine months up to school-age childcare, so that would be up to 12. The local authority areas have been supported to find solutions for parents in a few of the areas in Scotland that are areas of deprivation. We're looking at areas within inner cities—so Glasgow, Clackmannanshire, Dundee—but we're also looking at Shetland, so we've got that kind of city centre, but we've also got the really remote parts of Scotland, where there's not a lot of childcare, and there are issues around staffing. One of the solutions has been to have a qualification that will cover somebody to be able to work in social care and in childcare, and that's one of the the things that they're about to start piloting. They've developed things like that so that you could perhaps have one person that does a breakfast club, but then they also go and work in social care and then back to the after-school club. That's one of the things that we're looking at.

One of the other things that we have is the access to childcare fund. That fund was really looking at settings within these local authority areas. That included after-school clubs, it included child minders, it included private nurseries, and local authority nurseries. So, there were grants given to, I think, 15 different settings, groups or organisations within these early-adopter communities, and that was to allow them to find solutions to things like access to childcare—how do we provide that childcare in a way that parents can afford. Obviously, it was done in line with the 1,140 policy, but thinking about that kind of wraparound—how do you support families that need that wraparound. So, if they need all-year childcare, they're only going to get 22 hours a week that's funded. So, what do we do about the rest of it? This access to childcare fund has worked with different settings and different organisations to address different issues. It's very much in a pilot stage at the moment. They had four adopter communities for the school-age childcare and child minders, and we've just had two new communities added from the programme for government, just this year, and that's looking at early years. So, that's looking at how they add that early years element to it. Hopefully that will then bring in the one- and two-year-old offer as well, around the eligibility criteria. So, it's about trying to maximise the access and the affordability for parents. We're in a position of waiting to find out what the result of that pilot is at the moment. But hopefully that should be something that will be really useful.


Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mae hi mor ddiddorol clywed y tair ohonoch chi yn siarad am y broses mae eich cenhedloedd chi wedi bod drwyddi o ran ehangu darpariaeth gofal plant a'r blynyddoedd cynnar dros y degawdau diwethaf, ac yn amlwg mae'r gwaith yma ar droed nawr hefyd yng Nghanada. Felly, a allaf ofyn i chi pa fanteision sydd yna wedi bod—? Rydych chi wedi sôn tipyn, efallai, am yr heriau, ond pa fanteision sydd wedi bod i'r ehangu yma yn gyffredinol yn eich cenhedloedd chi?

Thank you, Chair. It's so interesting to hear all three of you speak of the process that your nations have been through in terms of expanding childcare and early years provision over the last few decades, and of course this work is currently under way in Canada. So, can I ask you what benefits there have been—? You've mentioned already some of the challenges, but what benefits have you seen in terms of this expansion in general in your different nations?

I think, for parents, it certainly has been a huge difference. We hear parents saying that getting that funded childcare is—. As far as they're concerned, it's free, because suddenly their wages have been freed up. They have that opportunity to do things with their families, so both parents can work, or maybe they can work part-time. So definitely, it's a benefit to the parents. There are issues around funding and around places, but on the whole, I think it's been a great thing for parents in terms of lifting people out of that poverty-related gap. There's a whole set of challenges around the business side of it and around actually delivering the policy, but if you ask parents—. The Scottish Government did a survey and it came out saying that the parents, on the whole, were happy. I think there are issues around additional support needs—challenges that we still have to address—but again, as I said earlier, that comes down to funding. It comes down to how you actually provide funding to local authorities to be able to support providers and parents. But on the whole, I think it's definitely achieved what it set out to, in terms of supporting parents.

Beth am o ran y plant ac allbynnau addysgiadol y plant?

What about children and the educational outputs for children?

Absolutely, yes. In terms of the children, as I said earlier, we have that rights-based approach for children, and we are seeing improvements in early literacy and early numeracy for children going forward to school. So, yes, definitely for the children as well, and that whole social aspect. There were issues coming out of lockdown, obviously, in terms of there being a lot of children coming forward to nursery who hadn't, perhaps, been in that social aspect, but we are starting to see children thriving again.


Maria, ydych chi eisiau sôn am hynny? Yn amlwg mae Estonia yn gwneud yn dda iawn yn addysgiadol. Faint o hynny sydd i lawr, ydych chi'n meddwl, i'r system sydd gyda chi, y system ofal a blynyddoedd cynnar?

Maria, would you like to mention that? Clearly, Estonia is doing very well in educational terms. How much of that do you think comes down to the system that you have, the childhood education and provision system that you have?

I think actually the roots are certainly in early care and education, and it benefits, as has been said already, both children and parents, because in Estonia, most of the mums are actually working. We don't have many stay-at-home mums, but even these mums put the children, at three or four years old, into kindergarten because of social things, and also most of the mums are not so good—maybe they are good at storytelling, but not in early maths or art activities. In each Estonian kindergarten, they have a physical education teacher who has a special background in physical education, a music teacher who has a special background in music. And it's something that, actually, we have a big problem to provide, especially in those small places. So, we have now an idea—not me, but our Government has an idea to change the law so that it is not obligatory any more. And some are fighting against it, but some say, actually, that it's a fact that we already don't have those specialists in small places anyway. But, yes, I think this early development, holistic development, is very important to future learning. 

Oes yna unrhyw beth ynglŷn ag iechyd, allbynnau iechyd, ac iechyd meddwl rŷch chi wedi gweld sy'n gysylltiedig â'r ddarpariaeth sydd gyda chi yn Estonia—pethau fel iechyd plant, gordewdra, iechyd meddwl plant? Ydych chi wedi gwneud unrhyw waith neu ydych chi wedi gweld unrhyw waith am hynny?

Is there anything in this respect to do with health, health outcomes, and mental health that you've seen that are related to the provision that you have in Estonia—things such as child health, obesity, the mental health of children? Have you done any work or have you seen any work around those issues?

I haven't seen those, but we have some research from our university that those who are doing things like physical education and then language and cognitive things, and those children who are active in childhood, are more active later, and also later more so they're better in maths and reading and so on. I think kindergarten is a place where children can be active. We do have some digital devices, but we have the smart learning pen without a screen. They are not sitting with films in kindergarten, or apps, or whatever. And so they are playing actively and they spend a lot of time outdoors, climbing and running and whatever. And I think, in some houses, some parents let them just watch tv or play on a computer, and so kindergarten can help to minimise those bad things.

Okay. Very good. Carolyn Thomas wanted to come back in.

Can I just ask a question, please? So, kindergarten is from three, but did you say earlier that parents can be at home until three years of age and get their full salary until the child is one and a half? No. I thought I might have written it down wrong. 

You said it right, they can be home at three and they won't lose their job but they get paid for one and a half years. So, it depends how parents combine those things. Many go for part-time work when the child is one and a half and put them part-time into kindergarten or care, and then later, when they are three, they go full-time. 

And do you have any child limits? So, a two-child limit, a three-child limit? Is there a child limit on—? No. Okay. Thank you. 

Thank you. I just wanted to come back to recruitment and retention, because, clearly, Estonia have done extremely well on ensuring that you've got a highly trained workforce. Apart from money, which is the obvious, is there anything that either Scotland or Canada could tell us is a strategy for improving the status, if you like, of the workforce? So, Martha, do you want to go first, briefly? And then I'll come to Jane.


Yes. I mean, I guess the conception is improving the work, but first of all, our qualifications aren't that high, as high as Estonia's, and we would like to raise them. But at this point, we would be happy to have people who are qualified, wanting to work in childcare. So, that being said, really, the conception is that the wages need to be raised, and they have been raised somewhat to different degrees, but not enough.

And then there are a lot of working-condition issues that people raise all the time. I was just in a two-day meeting about this—things like working as the only qualified person in a toddler room, for example, is a working-condition issue, or not having support staff to clean. Things like that are all working-condition issues that are important. Not having career ladders, or educators with lower diplomas doing the same job as somebody who's gotten a Master's degree.

So, when I say there are a lot of workforce issues to be worked out, it's not just the pay—it's all these other issues that have to do with recognition, how the programme is supported and so on. So, again, there is a recognition of that; there are changes being made, but nobody has sort of, like, got a magic formula yet at this point, but there is work being done on it at a national level amongst the officials and amongst the community. There's a lot being of work being done on the workforce. The workforce is the core of the programme, and unless the educators are decently paid, happy, have good working conditions, and trained for the work that they're doing, it's not going to be very good quality, and then it's not going to be very good for children.

So, setting aside the wages issue, because we know that there is a gap in terms of private, voluntary or independent and local authority, we do have, as I said to you earlier, the SSSC, the Scottish Social Services Council, and you cannot work in childcare without being registered, so you're registered as a support worker, a practitioner or a lead practitioner. So, you then get that sort of professional status, in terms of a lead practitioner will have a degree—there are various different degrees that they can hold—and your practitioner will have a practitioner qualification—again, there are various different ones—and your support workers are the trainees, and the kind of apprentices. So, we have that in terms of professional status, that you are registered with a professional body.

We also have things like NDNA are about to launch the institute for early years education, and, again, that is something that is going to support that professionalism, and it's going to give practitioners and the workforce something—that they can say they are a member of the institute. So, I think that we are working towards, and the Government Scottish Government are doing a lot of work with their workforce strategy—. At the moment, things are really tough in terms of budgets, so a lot of the things on that strategy are—I wouldn't say they're cost-free, but we're looking at different ways of actually raising that profile without spending too much money. So, there are lots of different ways that we are—.

In terms of issues that we have, it tends to be the pipeline; it tends to be the actual having people, bodies on the ground, to come into childcare that you would want to be working with children. So, NDNA have—. I'm sure you'll have heard of NDNA's Childcare Works programme in Wales, and we're literally—it's been very successful in Wales, but we've now launched that in Scotland. So, hopefully, we'll try and replicate that success to try and bring people into the pipeline that have that want and desire to work in childcare.

Very good. Thank you very much. Sioned, last word to you, because we have run out of time.

Jest eisiau holi, so ar hynny, rŷch chi'n dweud yn eich papur—cwestiwn i Jane—rŷch chi'n dweud yn eich papur eich bod chi eisiau gweld Llywodraeth yr Alban yn oedi cyn ymestyn pethau'n ymhellach. Ai oherwydd beth rŷch chi newydd amlinellu—y pipeline yma, yr issue ynglŷn â'r gweithlu—yw'r prif reswm?

I just wanted to ask, on that point, you say in your paper—it's a question for Jane—you say in your paper that you want to see the Scottish Government delaying things before further expansion. Is this due to what you've just outlined about this pipeline, about this issue with the workforce? Is that the main reason?

Yes. In terms of the one and two-year-old offer, we would like to see them slow down and fix the issues that we have with the three to four-year-old offer in terms of workforce, and in terms of funding. If we start to need to have more staff on the ground, qualified staff, our argument is we hear that the first 1,000 days of a child's life are the most important, so why, suddenly, have we got our highest qualified staff with the four-year-olds? Because that's where the money is, that's where the policy has gone. We're arguing, actually, we need our highest qualified in those first 1,000 days. But, at the moment, if we just rolled out the way it's gone with three and four-year-olds, we'd see that there would be a drop in quality, I think. So, we want them to slow down and just say, 'Right, let's really iron out the problems at that three to four-year-old level, before we start just rolling it out to the one and two-year-olds.' I think Martha said about not really having babies; we do have babies. We have babies in from six months, so we want to have the best staff working in that environment, and some of the baby rooms that I've visited recently are astounding. They're fabulous, the babies are content and you can see that they're just engaged, and we want that for every baby in Scotland. 


Thank you very much indeed. Thanks to all three of you for sharing your ambition and your achievements. We'll send you a transcript of what you've said. Please check it to make sure that we haven't misheard you. Otherwise, we thank you very much indeed for your contribution to our inquiry. The committee will now take a short break before the next session, which will start at 3.30 p.m.

Thank you.

Thank you, all.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:21 ac 15:32.

The meeting adjourned between 15:21 and 15:32.

3. Ymchwiliad dilynol ar ofal plant: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
3. Childcare follow-up inquiry: evidence session 4

Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We are continuing our childcare follow-up inquiry, and our fourth evidence session is with Naomi Eisenstadt, chair of the NHS Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board and formerly the head of Sure Start; Christine Pascal, director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood in Birmingham; and Natalie MacDonald, assistant academic director for childhood, youth and education at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and a former member of the Flying Start workforce. So, thank you very much indeed, all of you, for coming in. I'm going to start off the questions. What do you think is the primary purpose of early childhood education and care? Natalie.

For me, it absolutely is giving those children a flying start to life. I think a quality early start—. We know that there's a lot of research that sits around that, that if children have a quality start to their early learning, play and development it has that long-term, lifelong impact on them. So, for me, that's the fundamental priority: getting that right and making sure that the provision that they are having is of that high quality that has that long-term impact.

Okay. The Education Policy Institute evidence of the mid 1990s indicated that it needed to be comprehensive and integrated, but I never hear many people talking about that, so why is that?

I think what you need is—. Children need lots of things, don't they? They need to have lots of support with their development, they need practitioners who understand what child development is and what that high-quality practice is, but, on top of that, you need to have that integration, then, with other systems that are supporting it. So, if you are thinking about children with additional learning needs, or families that may be living in areas of disadvantage, you need to have that comprehensive, multi-agency approach with everyone working together. So, when you say 'integrated', that's part of what that means for me, but I think also it's that education and care coming together, as well—you can't separate care from education; they happen at the same time. And potentially, as we move forward in Wales, with looking at a more integrated early childhood education and care policy agenda and in practice, that's what we need to, I think: continue to bring that education and care together.

Okay. Chris Pascal, you've written, obviously, a lot about all this. What do you think are the key ingredients of successful early childhood education and care policies that Wales should be looking to incorporate into our delivery plan to, obviously, have a more equal society? 


Thank you for the opportunity to share my ideas with you all this afternoon. It's a real privilege to do that. I'm going to answer that question and say a little bit about the one before from a very child-centric point of view. A lot of the discourse and debate in the sector is very adult centric and system centric, and one of the issues around early years and early childhood education and care is it's such a rich area of pickings for different policy areas: the economy, health, education, social inclusion, all of those things. And, of course, those things are important, but, from the child's point of view, it's usually the first place outside the home where the child engages in their local—and I'm going to use the term—civic life, sense of community, outside their tight family structure, and we don't talk enough, I don't think, about the value and role of early childhood provision.

I hate the division between education and care, because the child is learning wherever they are and needs the quality to support that holistic view of the child's all-round development, not just as a preparation. It's how you're going to enable those children to thrive and flourish and realise the potential that all children have to live well in the twenty-first century and make a really valuable contribution. And from the child's point of view, it's about developing relationships and a sense of belonging, attachment, that sense of citizenship and belonging, and in other European countries they're much sharper on this with their early childhood services. They see them as places—the Peter Moss idea—of civic encounter, of citizenship, and they work hard at the child's sense of belonging and cohesion and being a valued and valuable and included member of that. And I think, for me, that's the primary purpose. It's to give that child the sense of identity and place and belonging, and an ability to make a contribution to the community that that child is going to grow up in and live in and make a good contribution to. The child, I hope, will be educated and cared for and encouraged and their flourishment and fulfilment in that broadest sense, I think, we have to keep on board.

The child is absorbing so much about what it is to be human in this and what that life is going to be like, and the most amazing part of our whole social system, I think, is where and how you raise that next generation of children. And I've written and I've got a lot more I could say, but I'd like us in this evidence session to keep the child, and keep it focused on what we're trying to support the child in that broadest sense to be—so, to keep it child centric, as well as system and adult centric. 

I'm come to Naomi, and I'll come back to you. So, Naomi Eisenstadt, clearly, I think we can all agree that the Sure Start programme was a child-centric policy. Could you outline what were the key ingredients to Sure Start's success, given the latest evaluation coming out of the Institute for Fiscal Studies? 

I think, interestingly enough, I'm not sure we can all agree, because, I think that one of the things that didn't go as well as I would have wanted it to do was the balance between the Sure Start emphasis on community development and parental involvement and the focus on the child. So, the best programmes, the best Sure Start children centres, managed to do both. But some of them emphasised too much what the parent wanted, which, of course, is important, because otherwise they won't come, but alongside that you have to have 'and will that have a good impact on your children?' So, I agree entirely with what Chris said, and I think her emphasis on a whole human being, not just 'a learner' or not just 'free from any illness' is really, really important, but I also think that the balance between how you support parents and get them involved and get them engaged to be the best parent they can be, while at the same time ensuring what that means for the child and how that is good for the child is really important. I think that the emphasis that Chris made on early childhood education being the first place that's not with the parent is really, really important—really, really important.


The Sure Start programme morphed into the children's centre programme. Do you think that rectified that child-focused approach?

No, what happened is that—. It depends what phase, and it's too complicated, and I don't want to go into a lot of detail on it, but, basically, once we expanded everywhere into 3,500 children's centres, the money was spread too thinly. The real evidence from the latest report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes it very clear that the very well funded, very concentrated early Sure Start children's centres—which is fine, those first 500—were funded to do both. Once the decision was taken to have a Sure Start centre everywhere, they increased the funding but not to the same amount that was dedicated to those early programmes, and it was those early programmes that the IFS has found have made the biggest difference for the poorest children, and particularly for non-white children. So, I think those lessons are really important. 

So, what suffered most: was it the children who most needed that quality provision from the poorest homes? Were they the ones who suffered the most from the reduced funding?

I don't want to say 'suffered', it's a bit loaded.

I'd like to turn that around and say that where you can make the most difference is where you should put your investment. Depending on the quality of the whole learning environment where there is a social class gradient, then you want to put your biggest investment where the kids need it the most. But I need to emphasise that I think one of the really good things about Sure Start is that decision to put it in poor areas but not to target on individual families, so it was open access. The principle of open access means that you have to do something that children and families want, because it's not like school—you know, the parents don't get fined if they don't come to the centre. So, you need this balance of what parents want to engage with and engage in, and what really helps children. Getting that balance right, I think, is really what Natalie was meaning by service integration. It's about both and not either/or.

Okay. So, the Welsh Government often talks about universal targeted services. Would you think that was a just summary?

Yes, or something—. We used to call it—I think Margy Whalley called it— assertive outreach: universal services that are accessible, but then you keep the data on who's not coming and you do extra effort to make it more attractive for the people who aren't coming. But I also think that there is a real difficulty in the initial question you asked about early childhood education and care. Again, in terms of what Chris was saying, we definitely needed a universal system. We now have an universal system in England from about two up, but it's not equally distributed, and it's certainly not distributed in terms of need. I think one of the things that we don't like to talk about in the way that we organise early childhood care, as opposed to education, is that it's designed around employment requirements. So, if a woman on a low income wants to work two full days, which makes absolute sense in terms of transport costs and everything else, in terms of the quality of experience for the child, it's less likely they're going to get the educational and social benefits that Chris was describing from two full days as opposed to five part-time days. And the flexibility around care has really bothered me, it's bothered me for years, because I think that flexibility leads towards good things for parental employment, but I don't think it leads towards high quality for the child, not the least because it's not the same group of children every time they go.

Thank you. Natalie, you wanted to come in, and then I'm going to hand over to Jane Dodds.

Yes. I just wanted to pick up on what Chris had said about needing to have that child-centric policy. I think, with the curriculum for funded non-maintained settings and the early childhood play learning and care guidance that we've got in Wales now, that is written from the child's perspective and it is a process-orientated curriculum. So, I think there's a real opportunity to develop more in that area and strengthen that area in Wales, using those as a basis for education and care provision, I think.


Diolch yn fawr iawn, a diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd am fod yma heddiw hefyd. A gaf i ofyn, yn eich barn chi, beth yw'r ffactorau allweddol sy'n dylanwadu ar ddarpariaeth addysg a gofal plentyndod cynnar o ansawdd uchel? A pha fath o gamau y dylai Llywodraeth Cymru eu cymryd i gefnogi darpariaeth o ansawdd gwell, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you very much, and thank you to you all for being here with us. Could I ask, in your view, what are the key factors that influence the delivery of high-quality early childhood education and care provision? And what sort of action should the Welsh Government take to support the delivery of better quality provision?

I'm sorry, I didn't hear the translation.

Neither did I.

Okay, that's fine. I will ask the question in English—that's probably quicker.


No, that's fine. Perhaps we can look into that later on, but let me ask the question, then. What are the key factors, do you feel, that influence the delivery of high-quality early education and childcare, and what sort of steps do you feel the Welsh Government should be taking to ensure that that high-quality provision is in place? I hope you heard that.

Yes, thank you.

Shall I start?

In terms of the report that Kathy Sylva and I just did for Nesta, we were unequivocal about well-qualified staff, but we were also unequivocal that the only way to get well-qualified staff is pay and conditions. I need to remind to you that when the Blair Government brought in the national minimum wage, the employment sector that was most against it was the childcare sector, because wages were so low and they were so frightened about having to put wages up. Now, we've made some real progress about improving qualification levels, and we've lost a lot of progress in the last six or seven years, and we have poorly qualified staff that are not paid enough. It's those two things together that are absolutely critical.

If I can add to that, it's workforce, workforce, workforce, and the workforce in early years is in a very parlous state at the moment. We're losing some of our most experienced and qualified staff, and what's happening in England is that that's being backfilled by a recruitment campaign, which is trying to bring much lower qualified people in as fast as they can—and, by the way, these are often going to be filling places and spaces where the most disadvantaged children are, because it's hard to recruit staff and retain staff in those areas.

I think what's absolutely needed is a real clear workforce strategy, and a report that I did for the Sutton Trust was very clear on what that includes—pay and conditions is one, but also status, visibility, acknowledgment and attention, and then mental well-being needs to be looked after, the demands put on them, and lowering of ratios is not going to help that, but also leadership. We do need to bring in new people—there needs to be a stream coming through—but we've also got to pay attention that these children need highly qualified people now, and the best way to do that is to grow the experienced people. So, there not only needs to be a workforce strategy to recruit new people in, who are clearly going to have an early career and start working through, but we need to grow the expertise, experience and the qualifications of the staff that we've already got, to enhance, so we've got those more highly qualified and experienced staff that we know, from the research, are the ones that are really going to make the difference. We need to have something graduate led—and I'm going to see teacher trained, but educative-focused practitioners who really understand child development, learning and health, who have that really robust professional training that gives them what I always call the magic dust to sprinkle on these children that makes something happen. Other staff that haven't got those qualities don't have the key to all of this. You remember these very young children, they've lived through COVID, been isolated, they haven't had the toddler groups, they haven't interacted well in their local community with other people, so the relationships that they're going to feel, this first time they come out of that home, are crucial. And if you've got staff who are tired, don't want to be there, don't see it as a vocation or as a high-status job, if they haven’t got that experience, that knowledge and that real clarity of what their role is and how to support those children, what that’s going to do to those children is worsen their life trajectories rather than enhance them. So, you need those higher qualified people who’ve got that bit of magic that they can give.


We've got a whole section on this, which is why I don't want to—. You know, we've got a whole section on this, but thank you. Natalie, I'm conscious of time, but is there anything you just want to add to what Naomi and Chris have said there?

Yes, absolutely, I think 100 per cent it's workforce, and it's looking at the qualifications and things that we’ve got as well. I think there are some lessons that we can learn from Scotland, looking at that registration, and I know there have been some consultations about registration, but just to streamline those qualifications that we do have, and look at some of the errors that are in place as well. So, currently, if you’ve got the level 4, level 5 for leadership and management, but then if you want to continue that development and you want to follow on from that level 5 into a degree, you can’t, because the credits aren’t enough. There are only 90 credits, and you need 120. And, vice versa, if someone has a degree and would like to do the level 4 or 5, that causes issues with funding because they already have a higher level qualification.

So, there are lots of little things like that that are preventing the system from working effectively, and I think we need to look as well at that graduate-led workforce. So, when we’re looking at leaders, when we’re looking at managers, we need to be looking at that graduate level. We see it in other countries, we see it in leading counties across Europe, across the world, and I think we do need to be looking at that. You might think typically of degree programmes that they’re full time, but we have a full-time programme that’s delivered in the evenings. We’ve worked really closely with Social Care Wales, making sure that there are practice competencies that are embedded in it. So, there are ways of doing it where you can upskill the current workforce and not just, as Chris and Naomi have said, capturing that new workforce, but upskilling and developing the workforce that’s already there to keep them motivated and develop those skills, because they are the ones that you want leading those settings, leading that pedagogy within those settings as well. And there’s something to be said about resources and location, but if you’ve got the right people that are around that child, they can have just as fabulous an experience in a shed with a bucket of water as they can in a fabulous setting that’s got all those wonderful resources. So, it’s really about the experiences that those children have.

Lovely, thank you. And my next question is related to the funding, which I think you've just touched on, and the question is to what extent the level of funding available to providers, particularly in the private, voluntary and independent sectors, impacts on the quality of the early childhood care and provision. How can we address this? So, any thoughts around that? So, it's the funding that's available. I know time is short. Yes, lovely—Chris.

Well, two things. One, the market itself won't deliver the quality and the funding to deliver that quality there. All over, internationally, there does need to be government subsidy, and the government subsidy needs to be enough to do it. But, interestingly, from some work that I’m involved with for a coalition lobbying for policy change—they’ve done some research—parents accept that they should and it’s fair that they make some contribution to that. The trouble is that, for some families in today’s world, they’ve got no money to make a contribution. So, it’s called free entitlement, but actually it’s not, because it doesn’t pay what it costs. It’s being subsidised elsewhere and by all kinds of means and sources.

So, funding is a critical thing, and there’s no way to get around it—it requires investment, and we shouldn’t shy away from this. I don’t call it a cost; I call it an investment. It’s a good investment and it pays off, and that argument needs to be made at government level. And the electorate need to understand if they want that, it does need to be funded. So, there’s no easy question. Investment is needed, but it’s a good investment and it will pay. How much more evidence do we need to show that cost saving and the benefits to the economy? It’s a much better investment than in hard infrastructure like roads if you invest in human capital. There's no better investment than investing early on in an individual's life, because you get the benefit for longer and it has a more significant impact. That case needs to be restated again and again and again, and we need to look at—. And I always say this: investing in a quality service costs more but it doesn't cost that much more. It does cost more but not that much more. They're investing a lot already. So, why have a sow's ear when you could do a little bit more and have something that could really make a difference. And the investment has to be skewed towards those children and families who would benefit most. So, I agree that it has to be that old concept of what I used to call in our training 'positive discrimination'. It needs to be skewed towards communities and families, and, like Naomi, it's not about it being targeted at families; it's targeted at areas, and universally within that area so you don't get the stigma. Sorry, Naomi.


Thank you. So, Naomi, I don't know if you've got—. Naomi or Natalie—

Well, the only thing I would say—again, apologies for my ignorance about Wales—but, in England, we have this thing called the 'pupil premium', which goes to primary schools, and there is a pupil premium for poor kids in early years settings. It's about one third of the pupil premium for primary school children. So, there are mechanisms already in place where you could quite easily increase the funding. It's not easy in terms of convincing the Exchequer that that's where you should spend your money, and I think that these long-term investment things—. I mean, I don't disagree with you, but at the end of the day, it's never cashable savings and it's not savings to the same organisation that puts the money in. We just have to bite the bullet and say there is a difference between cost and price, and right now we are not managing that difference well enough in terms of Government subsidy. It's arithmetic. It's not that complicated.   

Yes. Thank you very much. Natalie, have you anything to add? Time is marching on, so unless there's anything you want to add, then—. 

Only, I think, about the complexity of the funding. For parents, it's often difficult for them to navigate what they're entitled to, how to apply for it and the different ages as well. So, a more universal funding system that's almost like a one-stop shop—as the child progresses you're able to access that—and, I think, simplifying that system for settings as well would make it easier for them to run them. Settings quite often will have Flying Start children, they will be running the three-to-four, they'll have lots of different things that they are navigating as well, which adds to the complexity, I think, for settings. So, a streamlined, more unified system, simplified, I think would be really useful.

Okay, thank you. I've got some questions on recruitment and retention of workforce. Now, you've touched on it already, so don't answer if you've already touched on it, but just in case there's anything you've missed. Naomi, you talked about the pupil premium in England. I think we've got the school deprivation grant, haven't we, in Wales, that's being used for additional learning needs as well. Okay, just to Natalie first, based on your work with the 'Systems of Early Childhood Education and Professionalism in Europe' report, how do the challenges of early childhood education and care providers in Wales compare to those in the rest of the UK and other countries? And what interventions work best in addressing this challenge? 

I think the recruitment and retention crisis we're seeing everywhere, and it's very much linked to remuneration and how the profession is seen—so, if early years practitioners are seen as professionals in the wider world. I know, for all of us that are involved in it, yes, they are and they're amazing, but seeing it outside of it, seeing it as a career path, there's only so much that you can go, and what you get to is that you get lots of passionate people that are working in early years—that's why they're there—but, as they start to progress, as they start to develop, you almost train them out of practice. So, you get to the point where they're moving on to do other things. And I think that also impacts then on the gender imbalance that we see in early years practitioners, where we see predominantly females in that profession as well, and a lot of that is linked to times, remuneration and everything else. 

There's a lot of investment that has gone into recruitment and retention—so, Social Care Wales, the WeCare campaign—but it's just driving it as a viable career path, I think, lifelong. And I think that's reflected across the UK, definitely. In European countries, you do have that higher level of qualifications, you've got nought to seven as a kindergarten, and you've got masters-level trained staff, but the salary also reflects that, so you're able to retain staff then. So, I think, for me, it's a lot about that professionalisation of the workforce, and, alongside that then, the remuneration to reflect that for retention and recruitment.


Thank you. We've heard already comments regarding recognition, career paths, levels of employment, and all that, from both Chris and Naomi, which has been really important. Can I just ask—? Should the Welsh Government increase the hourly funding rate it pays to childcare offer providers, to support them to pay higher wages? I think it's £5 an hour at the moment. If so, what level do you think would be appropriate?

This is the amount that the Government gives to the provider, not the amount that the individual is paid, obviously.

I don't know that I would like to give a figure. I'm sure that settings can give a figure of what they work out that it all costs for them. But it needs to be above minimum wage if you want to retain staff, and then it has to be reflected that, if they are of a more senior level, that's viable. I'm aware of colleagues who are deputy managers, and they're on 50p an hour more than childcare practitioners. You have to think about the level of responsibility that comes with that, and then what difference it makes to their pay packet at the end of the month. Because those are all factors that we need to think about. Regardless of how passionate that person is about that quality childcare, these are the things that are going to keep practitioners in there, longer term. And the amount of funding is what's going to be the motivator for lots of settings, particularly in the private sector, to continue to deliver those funded childcare places as well.

Thank you. I don't know how much settings get paid in other areas. Is that something that we need to know at the moment?

I think we probably got that evidence from the last session.

Okay. The Wales TUC has suggested that the Welsh Government should establish a childcare fair work forum to work towards developing solutions to issues such as low pay and the undervaluation of the demanding, complex and valuable work that employees—who are predominantly female, as you said—within the sector perform. How would you respond to that suggestion?

I think that's a really positive idea. I think there are pockets of work that are ongoing in different areas. As I said, this is one of the things that Social Care Wales are driving forward; I know all of the umbrella organisations are as well. But I think there are also organisations that we could link in with across the UK. The Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network in England have a professional network, where they're looking at that professionalisation of the workforce and how to drive those things forward. So, I think that having a body that is doing that, looking at it across Wales—. If you tie that in then to also having that registration of practitioners, that registration will also give us the information that we're missing about how many practitioners do we have, what qualifications are they, where are they working—it will give us all of that information. That is a powerful tool then, isn't it, for being a catalyst for change, I think, too.

And just to add to that, funding is always an issue, but funding is a lever that you can use at Government level so that funding comes contingent on certain workforce standards and benchmarks. So, it's not just the amount, it's how that amount might be used and ring-fenced for certain things or to secure certain kinds of policy outcomes. I think we could be sharper with how the significant investment that is being made could be used to work as a lever for change a bit better. There were examples in the past when that happened, like the graduate leader fund, but there are ways to tie commitment to funding, and that just adds value to the funding that is going in there.


And we've seen it with Flying Start funding in Wales as well—that higher level of investment, that capital investment, and that minimum higher level of qualifications for practitioners. So, yes, we have seen it done, and, yes, I'd support what Chris is saying there.

Chris mentioned earlier the impact of changing the ratios. Would you like to expand on that, please, Chris?

The evidence is that it's not going to make that much difference to the viability of a setting, but it will certainly impact on the experience of the child and also the experience of the practitioners who are already overstretched and quite stressed anyway. I keep coming back to that well-being. Salary is a major thing about recruiting and retaining staff, but it's not the only thing; it's conditions of work, as well, and how they're viewed. For example, there's a view that certain kinds of involvement in certain kinds of training and development can actually really positively enhance commitment, motivation and job satisfaction.

In a piece of work I've been involved in, funded by the Froebel Trust, we've worked, for the last three years, in a group of nursery settings, on a practitioner-led improvement process that was really well supported. In those three years, we haven't had one day of stress-related absence in a member of staff. I know it's just one example, but they talk about being reinvigorated. Most people who come in to work with children don't come for the salary; they come because they enjoy being with young people. I think that's traded on badly and too much. It's viewed that they'll just carry on, and they do. So, I don't want that argument to take away from the fact that that they should be properly remunerated and acknowledged and there should be pay and conditions that are right.

But if you want a really motivated, attractive workforce, it's about their conditions of employment and their job satisfaction as well, and there's more that we can do with continuous professional development offers, training offers, to lift them away from the daily grind and the pressures, to see them as involved in a really exciting, innovative, groundbreaking set of work practices. So, I think there's a lot that can be done around training and development, and I'd link that to inspection—that that could also take away some of the stresses and strains. We're working on alternative forms of quality improvement. You haven't got the same as we have in England, but it's very punitive, and it feels punitive. People, when we talk to staff, feel very stressed by that. So, I think thinking carefully about how you create a different climate and work towards positive job satisfaction strategies is really important.

Early on in this conversation we talked about what constitutes quality, and of course it's about the workforce, but I also hope we're going to have some space to talk about the quality of the curriculum, the learning, the programme that's offered. And I also do think you can get real magic going on in a broom cupboard, but space and place and resources do make a difference, and the importance of the outside. So, it's really looking at the pedagogy and how play and first-hand experience is so important for these young children. I think the current curriculum is often backward looking, and we've got to futureproof the curriculum and create a programme that excites children and practitioners in an exploratory twenty-first century way.

There are major things going on in our world that are not talked about or not addressed in the current framework—things like technology and AI. I call them my 'five Ps and a T': technology; how we live peaceably alongside each other; how we look after the planet; how we understand our citizenship and our participatory rights. These are things where the curriculum and pedagogy could be reinvigorated, and staff, I think, would feel more motivated to engage with these kinds of issues. And, again, I'm looking at shaping these young children's attitudes and dispositions and their capacity to live well in the twenty-first century. So, your physical well-being as well as your mental well-being is really important. So, I think, a look at the curriculum and pedagogy and modernising that and futureproofing that could make it feel a little bit more positive than it does right now.  


Jane Dodds, did you want to come in before I move on to Sioned Williams?

Just really quickly. We've heard time after time, and in the previous panel, about the workforce and how important it is to pay them well and to have a better culture. So, in your view—and this really needs to be brief, one sentence—why is it that Governments are not seeing the childcare workforce as valued and valuable? It really is, please, just one line. What do you feel? Naomi, because—[Inaudible.]

I can't hear you now, Jane.

Sorry. I know you worked in Blair's Government. Can you tell us what it is, in your view? Thank you.

It's because the Government's purpose on childcare is workforce participation. So, my one line is that Rishi Sunak cares about childcare, he does not care about children. In all his speeches on expansion of childcare, he's never talked about children.

Thank you. Do any of the others want to give a one-liner?

I would agree with that. I would say that, often, we look at childcare and we see the purpose of childcare as getting parents back into work. Actually, it needs to be the complete reverse; we need to have quality universal childcare, and if you have that, and if parents are able to engage with that, they will go into work. So, the priority needs to flip from a Government policy perspective.

They don't value children in our society. We need to value children more and their capacity more.

Can I come in? I think this is more complicated than any of us want to admit. Poverty is bad for children, and the best way not to be poor is to have a job. The trouble is that wages have not kept pace, so the promise of, 'Get childcare, put women into work, and they won't be poor' has not been met. So, we have a lose-lose of low-income families really struggling and children in childcare that is not good enough to give the kind of boost that we thought that it would give. For me, this is part of an anti-poverty strategy and wider issues in anti-poverty that are not just about early education and care. And, of course, the irony is that the gender disparity in pay is largely about childcare workers, so it's failed on gender equality and failed on a good start for children. 

Sioned Williams, this was the area you wanted to ask questions about.

Ie. Dwi jest eisiau tsiecio a yw'r cyfieithu'n gweithio nawr. Na. Ocê.

Yes. I just wanted to check whether the interpretation is working. No. Okay.

Not for me.

Bear with me, because I've written my questions in Welsh. Do you want to dig in deeper on this issue of how early years education and childcare can tackle inequalities of all kinds, and, obviously, socioeconomic deprivation? Chris quite rightly pointed out there that allowing people to work doesn't get them out of poverty and that the boost that children are currently getting from the variable—

I think that was me.

Yes, it was Naomi.

—levels we have currently of provision isn't giving that boost to those children either for them to be able to succeed better in life. So, thinking about socioeconomic deprivation, but also other groups who suffer disadvantage—I suppose we're thinking there of all kinds of demographic groups and groups that may have additional learning needs or disabilities—what is the best way that we can tackle this through the early years and childcare provision? What isn't happening now, apart from that variable quality that we have at the moment? What needs to happen?

I think there needs to be an acknowledgment of how complex and challenging it is to get it right. There's still a perception out there that, if they’re young children, all they need is to be looked after and cared for and a nice safe environment, and then that will make the difference. And we know that it's much more nuanced than that. To work well, particularly for the disenfranchised or children with particular complex needs, it needs a very carefully constructed programme of experiences that will enable that child to thrive and go on and flourish and realise what their potential is about.

We have to have a societal shift that says that—. It's not a socioeconomic argument for me either. It's an ethical one about what kind of society we want, and I want to try and create a society where all children, whoever they are, have the ability to make the most of their capabilities and competencies. But that means you've got to have a programme and a group of people around that child, and I'm including the family and other professionals, that really understand that child and work with them in a very nuanced way. You can't have standardised responses to that. You've got to have professionals who can use their professional skill and their understanding to give that child that individualness. And we just haven’t got that at the moment, particularly for those children with more complex or challenging needs—that less well off. So, you've got the privileged even being more privileged, and the less privileged. So, that's why the gap's going in. Poverty is only one form of disenfranchisement, isn't it? There are many others. So, Naomi’s right, it's very complex, this.

But trying to create in every neighbourhood, which was what the Blair Government was trying to do, in every neighbourhood, a place to go, where you could feel and experience something, is difficult. Environmentally, it needs to be a place; not a signposting, a virtual place. It needs to be a real place where you can go. And it's a good-quality environment with people who care and have the capacity to support those families. Until we get there, we're going to continue on with what we are.

We did, I think, make a good start at that. It wasn't perfect, but we did make a good start of that. But that infrastructure has been dismantled, and we have to—. It will take time, but you've got to start somewhere with that, and the current fragmented, unequal system that we've got is just going to perpetuate it. So, we need to get going on it again, but be really clear about what we want this to deliver. And it isn't just to deliver parents into work or to catch up children in some kind of way; it's got to be something that says, 'This is the kind of community and neighbourhood that we are and this the place that you can be to realise that.'

It's not pie in the sky; it happens elsewhere, it happens in England in some places, it happens in Wales in some places I'm sure, but it doesn't happen everywhere, and that's the problem. It's that access and inclusion bit. We haven't talked a lot about integrated services, but I think you need an integrated, multiprofessional response around the child and family, in their community, in their neighbourhood, that makes sense to them, and that they can just walk into and access when they're able to.


I can see Naomi's itching to come in, and then I'm going to ask Buffy Williams to come in.

Well, I want to do a slight shift and talk about babies, because this is another international lesson. I think that we should have one-year paid parental leave. I think that the rate at which parental leave is paid should be much higher. I think that, again, the system that we have now disadvantages the poorest women, because if you are well-paid when you start work, then you can probably save enough to take a year off if you want, or not. So, it doesn't mean you can't go back to work if you would like to, but I really believe in a protected first year.

And I really believe that the way in which we organise childcare in England, in terms of the promise of free 30 hours from 9 months, fills me with horror. I think there's no understanding of the cost of delivering quality to babies and how difficult it is. I'm old now, I can say this: I honestly believe that babies thrive in domestic settings. I don't think under-ones thrive in group settings. I'm not saying it's bad for them; I just think it's better for babies to be—. Rich people have nannies. Rich people don't put their babies into nurseries. They have one-to-one care. And I think that making it possible for parents to have the decision to be able to give their child—their baby—a first year at home would be a fantastic thing.


I absolutely agree with you. Unfortunately, this is not a devolved responsibility.

I know—I know—but we can make the arguments, and within our political parties, we can make the arguments.

By not making the argument we are accepting a status quo that I think is not the best possible start for children.

So, I would like to—. I just want to make sure that we remember that under-twos matter. 

Thank you, Chair. I have some questions on creating an integrated approach to early years provision, and I know you’ve just touched on that just now. So, what approach should the Welsh Government consider to deliver better integration of the different strands—obviously, early years education and the childcare offer? And do you have a view on whether what is being delivered in Wales is integrated, and whether it has clear purpose? I’ll start with Chris.

Natalie, do you want to start, as you're based in Wales?

Yes, I think there are some elements that are working well. I think the Flying Start programme in itself is a good example of that, where we’ve got childcare, additional health visiting, you’ve got speech and language support, parenting support, all of those things kind of working together. I think that’s a good example of where it can work, but I do think that we still have a long way go to, because it’s pockets of where it works rather than a sort of whole-system approach. And I think that any changes are—. We’re talking long term. I don’t think there’s something that you could put in place next week and it’s going to fix everything. I think it’s going to take a while to develop into that system where everything is working as it should.

But I think what we should be looking at is more of a unified system, so that, regardless of where that child is, whether they experience their childcare in a couple of different settings or one setting, that’s consistent, that we’ve got a unified system of qualifications, of funding, which is a simplified process; that we’ve got a curriculum that is consistent across wherever those children are as well; that entitlement, policy, again, are all aligned, because you’ve got the separation with the ministerial responsibilities, which can cause some friction and some tension when they come together; that registration of staff, but also that integration of services as well, so we’ve got health, education, care all talking to each other, linked to each other.

And I think we can also look at the additional learning needs legislation that we have now, which is drawing those things together, so we have those additional learning needs packages that sit with the child and travel with the child. I think that’s quite a good model to look at, if we look at that more holistically for all children as well, so the support almost sits around the child, rather than being linked to individual settings. That would be my view.

There are different levels and models of integration, and the integration of different kinds of services. We talked earlier about the integration of education and care into that model. In a way, because, systemically, they tend to lie close together, one of the big challenges we have, I think, is to bring health into that, and our health professionals, and integrate them. There are so many challenges to join those two systems up, and yet I was talking to the editor of The Lancet journal this last week, who really cares about child health, and his big line is that you can’t have child health without education. And I would add that you can’t have education without child health.

But there’s a real challenge, systemically, at a local level. I'm struggling all the time with various language and literacy programmes for parents and children that I'm evaluating. And they’re all trying to unify and have this kind of joined-up system at a local level, but health is the hardest one to bring into that common system and joined-up system of working. Naomi will probably have a view on that, but health keeps itself in its little bubble and works in its own way. So, if we could undo some of those boundaries and those silos, particularly in those first years when it really matters. 

And the other advantage with health is that it tends to be non-stigmatising, because it’s a universal service, but it's also a vital service. There's a lot of work to do systemically, but also in terms of the professional development of health professionals in order to work in that respectful, congruent, unified way. We did a lot of learning about this with Early Excellence and Sure Start and children's centres, about what does work, and there are models elsewhere about it. We were getting there, or beginning to get there, but I think it's got harder, and as money has tightened and capacity has tightened, it's got harder and harder to share and join things up, I think. But until health and early years—let's put it like that—is joined up, I don't think we're going to get the best strategy for children. Naomi has got something to add.


Naomi, you wanted to come in. Can I just say that 1 per cent of mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 months—1 per cent in Wales? That tells you that health is not working well.

Okay. What I wanted to say is that we have consistently failed in England, between the department of health and the Department for Education, to bring together the NHS number and the unique pupil identifier, so we don't have a common data set on children, because the DfE protects the unique pupil identifier, and I used to say about the NHS that they think your name and address are as secret as your HIV status. So, there is a real difficulty in the culture around data protection that really holds up the kind of integration we could have in tracking families, and also in evaluating our services, because you get an integrated—. So, for me, that's one of the bits of the puzzle that just still, after all these years, has not been solved in terms of integration. And I don't think it's just health; I know that the Department for Education has been very resistant as well. But I'm certainly not going to defend health on the point.

On breastfeeding, I'm very disappointed to hear that. Part of that is about resource, and about what we're asked to do. And if NHS England are not asking us about that; NHS England are asking us about cancer waits.

Thank you. Thank you, Naomi. I'm going to skip my next question and go on to my last one, because you've touched on integration quite a lot. So, back to Naomi, in recent work with Professor Kathy Sylva, you've called for the establishment of children's campuses in every neighbourhood. Could you tell us a little bit about this, please, and the benefits, and what the thinking behind this is?

Well, we had to call it something different. Although everyone else is talking about it, we don't hear anything from the current Government, or indeed the opposition, about Sure Start, so my view is that I don't care what you call it: call it 'banana'; I'm not out to defend a logo or a title. Children's campuses are basically whatever Sure Start would have been, because, yes, one of the key things that we wanted to make sure on children's campuses that was different is that some of the Sure Start centres were on primary school campuses. So, we are arguing now that it's a really good idea to have them in primary schools, particularly because it helps rural areas, because all children in rural areas still have to go to primary school. It means that the family will be going there anyway. So, that was one.

And the other big difference was that—. Well, we had this in Sure Start and then we lost it because of the thinning out. Even under Blair and Brown we lost it. It was the necessity that your integrated family support services sit alongside high-quality early education and care. So, it's not that you go somewhere, you drop your child somewhere else and then come to your drop-in for advice on how to be a parent; you bring these two things together. So, the children's campus includes high-quality early education and care, but also includes all those others—health, employment advice, benefits advice, and all that kind of stuff. And if you're setting up something new, as far as possible, you do it within a primary school locality. So, the ones that are already running, the Sure Start buildings that are already there, call them something else, who cares? But the important thing is the notion about bringing services together, having childcare on site, and also just making sure that the open access is attractive.