Last week saw the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Childcare and Early Education launch their inaugural “Childcare and Early Education Week”. The theme was ‘Celebrating Our Sector’, with the aim to thank practitioners for their hard work and sacrifice, both during the COVD-19 pandemic and before.
That Nursery Life wanted to learn about the work of the APPG, and the purpose of the week. We caught up with the APPG’s Chair, Steve Brine MP, to find out more.
TNL: Steven, many thanks for making the time to talk to us. We were wondering if you could describe the purpose and work of the APPG, and what the week is about?
Steve Brine MP: My pleasure. So the APPG serves the purpose of connecting MPs to the Childcare and Early Years sector, and to their constituents who require well-performing provision. We want people to understand that they can come to their MPs on this topic, and that the sector can engage with them so that we can advance the good of the sector.
The week, and it’s theme, is about recognising the great work that Early Years professionals do every day. It isn’t just about COVID-19, although of course their continued professionalism and sacrifice is recognised. It’s also about the great work they do year-in-year-out, doing the essential work of early childhood education.
We have to challenge this idea of Early Years educators as well-meaning amateurs looking after children in village halls. These are highly trained, well educated people delivering vital early education, preparing children not only for school but their engagement with learning for the rest of their lives. They are laying the early foundation stones for all future education.
Why did you join, and then chair, the Group?
I joined and became an advocate within Parliament because my constituents wanted me to. They came to me, told me about the important work they do, the challenges and where Parliament isn’t listening to the sector and what it needs to do a good job, and as their representative it was my duty to pick this up. This is why the APPG is so important, we want everybody to tell their MP that they want them representing the sector’s needs in Parliament.
What would you say are the main challenges affecting the sector?
Something that I have been pushing within Parliament for some time now is that the sector is facing a major funding crisis, what I describe as Market Failure. To summarise the challenge succinctly, the hourly cost of childcare is more than settings receive. The wider market cannot sustainably afford to support the required cost, and so it is up to government to step in and ensure that the proper funding is in place both for Maintained and for Private Voluntary and Independent (PVI) providers.
I called for greater funding in the recent Westminster Hall debate, calling for a meaningful policy review of Early Years sector funding. I have been both moved and impressed by the cross-party support this is receiving from other backbenchers within Parliament. This is something there is an appetite across the House to fix, and is something that I as an MP, and we as an APPG, will continue to push on.
What we require is a vibrant PVI sector fostered and supported by government. The PVI sector is currently going out of business on a grand scale.
And we should be clear: although the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem, it didn’t cause it. Every year is a tough year for the sector.
What do you think about the response to the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the Childcare and Early Years sector?
What we have seen has been illustrative of the importance of the sector, but that we also need to start taking it more seriously as a country.
Keeping the sector open while others have shut during this lockdown shows something that everybody who works in the sector, or who has children who attend a provider, already knew: the sector is indispensable. To me, they have been like a fourth emergency service.
It also shows something else that those in the sector already knew: those making policy in this country don’t understand it.
So it’s time everybody listened, and then put their money where their mouth is.
The sector has very particular needs, for example around testing. Many testing centres however have opening hours that coincide with the working hours of Childcare and Early Years sector professionals, and they are not being provided with tests. This has to change to ensure the safety of sector workers and their communities.
I know that the Department for Education is pushing strongly for Early Years professionals to be included in phase two of the vaccine programme. Much like teachers, they need to be protected.
It’s simple. If the national priority is education, then vaccinate the educators.
What would you say to your colleagues in Parliament who may not currently be involved, to get them onboard with the APPG for Childcare and Early Education’s work?
Firstly, and I know it is cliche, but the small children who are learning in these settings every day are the future of this country. They will be the scientists and doctors who develop the vaccines in the next pandemic, future Members of Parliament, journalists, contributing to our society. They need to be educated, and I mean in the fullest sense of the word.
The Childcare and Early Education sector is not only teaching them very important things like maths and literacy. They are also teaching them important life-long lessons on nutrition, their bodies, how to get on with others.
Another thing that I would say is that if you want to have a thriving economy you need a thriving sector. People need to be able to go to work.
Finally, the floor is yours: what would you like to tell our readers about the APPG Childhood and Early Years and your work?
First of all I would like to say thank you for the great work you are doing under difficult circumstances. It isn’t said often enough.
I know that it may seem like you are stuck out there on your own in ‘Early Years World’ and that we in Parliament don’t understand you. That couldn’t be further from the truth, there are many MPs who understand you and are fighting your corner.
Your efforts are noticed, appreciated, and your challenges are recognised and being shouted from the rooftops and from the Back-benches to those in power.
The APPG Childcare and Early Education and MPs are there for you to reach out to and ask for help, so do please read about the Group, contact your MP and get involved!
If you would like to learn more about the APPG Childcare and Early Education please click HERE
To learn more about Steven’s work as an MP, click HERE
For the Hansard of the Westminster Hall debate on The Future of Nurseries and Early Years Settings, click HERE