On 1st July 2016 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Childcare and Education, Sam Gyimah spoke at the annual conference National Day Nurseries Association where he announced that he would be reviewing the staff structure to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare as promised in the 2015 manifesto in what he called a “big move”. He said changes to requirements would be consulted upon but added “I am not going to give a timetable today” a statement which was not well received by the delegates. Mr Gyimah said that as a result of consultations with the sector over the past few months he has found that “the most common issue in terms of attracting staff at Level 2 and 3 is the introduction of the GCSE requirement.” The childcare minister added that he hoped his attendance at the NDNA conference went some way to assuring the sector that he was taking their concerns seriously.
However a few days later the Tory leadership contest was unexpectedly concluded and on 13th July Theresa May was selected as our Prime Minister. On 17th July she decided that Sam Gyimah should move to the Ministry of Justice and moved Justine Greening to the role of Education Secretary, replacing the unpopular Nicky Morgan. Three other MPs have also been drafted into the Department for Education; Caroline Dinenage, Robert Halfon, and Jo Johnson. However, we await the announcement of who the new childcare minister will be, and what will happen to the children and young people’s mental health brief that Gyimah was responsible for. Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association Childcare and Early Years, said that with free childcare provision due to be extended to 30 hours a week from September 2017, and a pilot set to begin in little over a month, clarity is urgently required. “With the sector at a critical stage in planning for the national implementation of the 30 hours offer just over a year from now, it is vital we know which DfE minister will be responsible for the delivery of this much-needed support for families,” Bayram said.
The views of many professionals within childcare services is that they are all too often treated as a cinderella service, expected to present the same levels of competence as mainstream teachers, whilst pay levels are often set by the minimum wage. Although Theresa May has many other calls on her time while the MPs are on leave, it is vital that she does not forget about this gap in her ministerial team or else she will send out a very strong message regarding her own priorities.