Weekly political news round up – 21st March 2014

March 24, 2014 in News by Whitehouse

Around the sector

The Scottish Government have announced that four new members have been appointed to Scotland’s Early Years Taskforce. Set up in 2011, the Taskforce aims to provide a strategic and co-ordinated approach to early years policy across the public sector and to ensure public spending on the early years of children’s lives and early intervention is prioritised – shifting the emphasis of public spending from dealing with health or social problems towards policies that prevent them in the first place. Amongst the appointees is Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP.

Children and Young People Now have reported that a number of special educational needs charities, including Contact a Family and Every Disabled Child Matters, have expressed fear that cuts to local authority budgets and inadequate guidance for professionals will undermine the reforms made in the Children and Families Act. Paul Soames, chief executive of Contact a Family, said that “more cuts in local authority services and welfare changes mean families with disabled children and young people face extremely difficult times ahead”.

Ofsted launches consultation on introducing ratings for early years care in schools

Ofsted, the government department that inspects and regulates schools, has launched a consultation on plans to introduce a separate rating covering early years care in schools. The consultation document says Ofsted will develop a separate inspection criteria for early years in schools that measures pupils’ achievement, the quality of the teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership and management. The plans are designed to ensure inspectors place as much emphasis on early years provision as they do on education for five to 16 year olds.

Though the consultation is short on detail, it says that the inspections will ensure that Nursery and Reception classes follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) framework. Outlined in the current EYFS framework is one assessment criteria, ELG 05, which states that children must “…manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently”.

Budget 2014

On Wednesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered the Budget 2014 statement to the House of Commons, in which he outlined the state of the nation’s finances, as well as the Government’s proposals for changes to economic policy. The Budget also provided an opportunity to announce the Office of Budgetary Responsibility’s (OBR) forecasts for the growth of the UK economy over the next few years.

George Osborne told the House that if “you are a maker, a doer or a saver, this is a budget for you”. In particular, he highlighted that the OBR has revised up their prediction for growth in 2014 from 2.7% compared to 2.4%, as predicted in the Autumn Statement in December. Osborne also stated that there will be more cuts in public spending in the next Parliament, provided the Conservatives are elected in 2015.

Long term economic policy remains largely unchanged, with the core of the changes outlined in the Budget largely relating to pensions and savings, as well as business and manufacturing. There were, however, a couple of points of interest for the PCF.

As was announced by the Government earlier in the week, the Government will be introducing several extra provisions regarding childcare. These include a new Early Years Pupil Premium to help ensure children get the best possible start in life, which involves the investment of £50 million in 2015 and 2016 in early years providers, allowing them to employ more highly qualified staff. This money can be spent by providers in ways which they deem necessary to narrow the attainment and development gap between pupils from different backgrounds.

Furthermore, the Government has also announced changes to the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. The Government will now provide working parents with 20% support on childcare costs up to £10,000 per year for each child (compared to the existing limit of £6000). This means that there will now be support of up to £2000 per child per year. The scheme, which is available for children up to the age of 12, is also available for children with disabilities up to the age of 16.

Moreover, while numerous Government departments have had their departmental programme and administration budgets cut, funding for the NHS is set to increase from £105.6bn in 2013-14 to £108.3bn in 2014-15, and again to £110.4bn in 2015-16. This is in line with previous commitments that the NHS budget would rise in real terms – although there will still be huge pressures to make savings.

Responding to the news, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) have issued a statement saying that the announcements made on Wednesday were “not [by] that of a government aspiring to make our country the best for children to grow up in”. Despite welcoming the commitments to assist families with the cost of childcare, the NCB criticised the impact of spending cuts on children from poorer households.