FEARS for the long-term future of nurseries, playgroups and out of school clubs run by the independent and voluntary sector in the Borders have been voiced this week.
According to John Paton-Day, who is Scottish Borders Council’s children’s and young people’s champion, one nursery manager has already handed in her notice after the Scottish Government decreed that all people in her position must, as a condition of registration, study for a degree in childhood practice.
And another, Lynn McCulloch, has told TheSouthern that she is “seriously” considering her position in light of the requirement.
Mrs McCulloch, who runs the East Green Nursery in Earlston, catering for 80 children aged from two-and-a-half to five, says the demand is “a step too far”.
“I believe under managers feel the same: that this is a quite unnecessary extra burden for a sector whose staff and the service they deliver are already more than adequately monitored and regulated,” said Mrs McCulloch.
Councillor Paton-Day wants the new council elected on May 3 to lobby Holyrood to have the decision reversed.
Since last December, the Scottish Government, in a bid to dovetail pre-school education with the Curriculum for Excellence, has insisted all new managers of nurseries, playgroups and out of school clubs must either be already on a Level 9 degree course (BA in Childhood Practice) or be enrolled to start such a course. This will also be a phased requirement for existing managers who have, since 2008, been registered with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).
“I am acutely aware that independent child care providers in the Borders are under increasing pressure to maintain an affordable service,” said Mr Paton-Day. “So it is unwise for any government to demand any change that could significantly increase the cost of provision, as well as threaten the ability of some independent providers to maintain any provision at all.
“All nursery managers should already be qualified to what is known as Level 8 which is equivalent to a Level 4 SVQ (Scottish Vocational Qualification) or a PDA (Professional Development Award) in childhood practice and most feel that this is a suitable level of qualification.
“No-one can deny the value of study and continuous updating of modern childhood practices, but that is not what the Level 9 requirement provides. What it will do, however, is encourage those who gain the degree to move out of nursery management into areas where higher salaries are available and the effect of this could be to the detriment of nursery care in our region.”
Mr Paton-Day highlighted a recent survey, carried out by SBC’s childcare services unit, of 31 nursery managers in the Borders.
“Some believed they were already suitably qualified and feel enough is enough. No-one can be sure of the short or long-term effects, but one thing is certain: we run a very real risk of losing some very experienced and valuable nursery managers.”
He said he was also concerned that, from this month, the Scottish Government had removed the subsidy repaid to child minders for the cost of disclosure accreditation – known since last year as the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme – to ensure those who have regular contact with children do not have a history of harmful behaviour.
“The PVG cost of £59 will now have to be paid by every person over the age of 16 living in a property where child minding is carried out,” said Mr Paton-Day. “This could result in deterring people from providing this service and will disproportionately affect rural areas such as the Borders where so many parents rely on a child minder in order to work or study.
“The same charges are causing problems in our small commissioned nurseries where there is a volunteer management committee of parents as each committee member, as well as staff, has to pay for the PVG check.
“Many parents resent these checks and are thus not prepared to sit on committees and this is putting the existence of the small playgroups and nurseries at risk.
“Of course a child’s safety is paramount, but some common sense must be applied.”
Mr Paton-Day said that, if re-elected, he would table an early motion, calling for the new council to demand that the Scottish Government removes the need for nursery committee members who have no contact with children to have PVG checks and to reinstate the funding subsidy for child minders.
“Furthermore, the Level 9 degree course for nursery managers, whose existing SSSC registration depends on them holding Level 8 qualifications, must surely be optional and not compulsory.
“These managers perform a crucial role, not only in educating our very young children but in providing facilities on which our economy depends. I genuinely believe this move, though perhaps well motivated, is unnecessary and has the potential to have a devastating effect on future recruitment.”
Mrs McCulloch said her nursery in Earlston, which she has managed for the past six years, has recently received glowing reports from both the Care Inspectorate and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.
“It is a hard enough hands-on job running a busy nursery with six staff and 80 children and to be told I now need further qualifications is a real morale-sapper,” she told us. “Our profession is already extremely well regulated and our nursery is performing well, but this requirement means I will seriously have to consider my position.”
A spokeswoman for the SSSC said she could not challenge the facts regarding the changes highlighted but Mr Paton-Day, but she declined to comment on his interpretation.