Blog: Funded childcare should prioritise quality

In the ever-evolving landscape of early years education, a pressing issue looms large: the 30-hour funding policy and its repercussions.

At the heart of this dilemma is the lack of adequate financial support for nurseries to meet the demands of this funding model. As nurseries grapple with ever-tightening budgets, the inevitable consequence is a reduction in staff salaries and the employment of less expensive and, therefore, less qualified staff, says Louise Livingston, our Head of Training. This downward spiral not only undermines the value of early years as a career, but also compromises the quality of education and care provided for children at a stage which research shows is critical to their development. This could have consequences for their long-term wellbeing and fulfilment of their potential.

In Montessori education, we recognise and emphasise the importance of teachers thoroughly trained in child development at every stage, yet the current funding climate fosters a culture of lowered expectations driven by the allure of quick, inexpensive online childcare courses. This risks the integrity of early years education since provision becomes more of a babysitting service than an opportunity for nurturing optimal development. Parents seeking childcare options under the guise of choice may unwittingly entrust their child’s formative years to individuals lacking in proper training and understanding of child development.

In addition, the prolonged hours offered by many childcare centres – sometimes from as early as 6.30am to as late as 7.30pm – raises concerns about the impact of long days in settings on children’s wellbeing. The Montessori philosophy underscores the significance of children engaging in the life of the home – such as eating together – which builds social, verbal and motor skills. Limiting these opportunities for young children will mean many miss out on the benefits they bring.

The disparity between the actual cost of early years education and government funding poses a threat to the sustainability of nursery schools. Many establishments find themselves on the brink of closure, unable to bridge the financial gap created by the 30-hour funding model.

As we assess the current state of early years provision, critical questions emerge: will places for two- and three-year-olds in early years settings be reduced rather than expanded by this approach? What is the government’s objective with the 30-hour funding initiative, and how does it align with the reality of nursery funding shortfalls?

In terms of sustainability, the only solution is for the government to redo its sums and consider raising the funding given to providers. It seems that the current allocation might rely on staff being employed on minimum wage or less.

In terms of addressing some of the wider impacts of the funding crisis – such as low morale because of low pay and less qualified staff – it is imperative that we make early years employees feel valued and empowered to pursue qualifications. Recognising nursery staff’s dedication and hard work through appropriate remuneration is essential in retaining strong practitioners within the sector. By offering incentives and support for training before entering the workplace and further training and development throughout their career, we can encourage individuals to enhance their skills and knowledge, ultimately benefiting the children in their care. At the Maria Montessori Institute, we are working hard to offer discounts, scholarships and bursaries, as well as a degree route, all of which increase wider access to high-quality early years training.

It is imperative to reflect on the 30-hour policy’s broader long-term implications for our children. Every child should be able to access high-quality care and education. Only through concerted efforts and informed discourse can we forge a path toward a more equitable and sustainable early years sector.

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