UNISON home
UNISONScotland www
Scotland's biggest public service union Join UNISON
Join UNISON
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK

 

Response to the

Call for Evidence - Early Years

The UNISON Scotland Submission To the Scottish Parliament's Education Committee on their call for Written Evidence - Early Years

Scottish Parliament Education Committee
Call for Evidence: Early Years

April 2005

Introduction

UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the call for written evidence from the Scottish Parliament's Education Committee regarding Early Years. UNISON Scotland strongly supports the Early Years Review, as we believe that it will enhance the extent and quality of life for the young children of Scotland and their parents.

We support wholeheartedly the Convenor of the Education Committee, Robert Brown's statement that accompanies the Call for Evidence, particularly his assertion that "The earliest years of children's lives are vitally important for their future development."

UNISON Scotland is pleased to make the following responses on the particular areas mentioned to assist the Scottish Parliament in assessing progress made by the Scottish Executive in addressing these issues:

Support for Parenting

There are three areas we believe should be looked at under this heading: Maternity and paternity pay and allowances; work-life balance and the economic and social benefits of childcare.

As the UK Government and most other political parties have realised, provision of maternity and paternity pay and allowances in the UK falls far short of that experienced in many other developed countries. The Prime Minister's recent announcement of plans to extend paid maternity leave from six to nine months, as a first step towards extending it to 12 months is a very welcome step, nevertheless, there is still some catching up to do. Two examples of parental leave in other countries are those of Sweden and Norway. In Sweden, parents are entitled to 13 month's leave at 80% of their earnings. The fathers must take Thirty days of the parental leave and take-up rates are 64%. In Norway, every family is entitled to 52 weeks of parental leave at 80% of their salary, or 42 weeks at 100% of their earnings. There is also provision for a proportion of the leave to be taken as reduced hours where the length of the leave is increased accordingly. Again, one month must be taken by the father and here the take-up rate is 80%.

Whilst we appreciate that, at present, the right to legislate is reserved to Westminster, we believe the Scottish Parliament can play a role in persuading the United Kingdom parliament to improve and expand on the current provision. In addition, parliament can encourage the Scottish Executive to ensure public authorities in Scotland are a shining example of best practice.

UNISON Scotland believes that increases to maternity and paternity pay and allowances are essential to enable working parents to have a genuine choice about whether to stay at home or work when their children are very young and to enable fathers to play a greater part in caring.

We believe that the provision of an improved work-life balance for families would be greatly assisted by the introduction of more flexible working practices in the workplace. The current, well-documented flexible options include job sharing, part-time working in a variety of ways, flexitime, shift working and home working (on an occasional basis). However, research is now being carried out on other flexible innovations, such as staggered working hours; annual hours, where fewer hours can be worked at certain time and more at others to suit individual circumstances; personalised annual leave, where up to 10 days annual leave can be "bought" in return for a lower salary, or leave reduced in return for more income and career breaks. Whilst the Government has introduced legislation to allow working parents to request flexible working, with employers having a duty to consider these requests, we believe more could be done to ensure that all working parents are entitled to such provision. We believe that the Scottish Executive should consider launching a campaign on Work-Life Balance similar to that of "Close the Gap" in order to persuade Scottish employers of the economic benefits of new and different ways of working.

The economic and social benefits of childcare are extensive and research is now highlighting these in detail.

The main benefits to the parents are that it allows them to work and provides the opportunity to raise many out of poverty. They are also able to access education and training; gain increased or stable earnings, leading to a decrease in the dependency on benefits; can increase their working hours perhaps moving from part-time to full time; they have greater ability to do a satisfying job from which they will need to take few absences.


This can in turn lead to benefits to employers, with better retention rates for staff; better rates of return from training and staff development; reduced absences and a wider base for recruitment.

Social benefits can include advantages to the children themselves, by increased security, confidence, learning abilities, etc. Support and advice can be given to parents and a reduction in stress can be felt through inclusion in the community.

The variety of approaches in child development work and their implications for future policy.

UNISON Scotland believes strongly in integrated childcare and early years learning. Early years education is often seen as preparing young children for school, where learning is perceived to begin. However, as is widely acknowledged, a child learns more in the first five years of its life than in any other five-year period. We believe lifelong learning is a continuum which, in the early years, encompasses the balance between education and care.

We also believe that the provision of early years education must be integrated with social and health services for children, to provide a holistic approach, and removes the stigma from children from low income families. We therefore, welcome the Sure Start and the Starting Well initiatives which support this approach.

We acknowledge that nowadays most childcare is delivered via Childcare Partnerships, made up of local authority, voluntary and private sector bodies and we believe that the Trade Unions should be involved in these.

Flexibility of Childcare Provision

UNISON Scotland believes that there is not sufficient flexibility of childcare provision. We believe that the government should provide affordable universal full-time childcare for all ages. The existing Executive provision of part-time, free pre-school education for all 3 and 4 year olds is helpful, but inadequate. The current split between early education (in nursery schools) and care (mainly by the private and voluntary sector) means that multiple arrangements are necessary every day. The availability of part-time places in nursery classes means that working parents must still rely on childminders in addition to nursery school. This is disruptive for children and the combination of childcare arrangements can be volatile and difficult. Many European countries have more extensive public provision for the early years sector, spending three or four times more than the UK. In Sweden and France the early years system is an almost universal public service and in Finland every child has the right to a childcare place from birth, with highly qualified educators.

Most working parents, particularly those who work part-time, face particular difficulties in organising childcare arrangements. Nursery classes rarely coincide with the working time of part-time workers, particularly if they work irregular hours. Day nurseries charge the full price, even when only a part-time place is needed. All of the above problems would be solved if there were sufficient publicly funded centres for children from birth to compulsory school age, staffed by qualified early education and care workers.

The 10 year strategy for childcare in England and Wales focuses on choice and flexibility, availability, quality and affordability. In addition, in his 2004 Comprehensive Spending Review, the Chancellor declared the 21st century as the era of universal childcare and early years services which goes much further than seeing childcare as merely a welfare-to-work policy.

Availability of Childcare

UNISON Scotland at present believes that parents have little choice in the childcare they require. We want affordable, universal childcare, funded by the local authority, to be available to all.

We support integrated childcare based in communities, e.g. based around secondary schools, primary schools, special needs provision, nursery schools, all in the one community. There is obviously not one model that will suit all provision, but this should be the basic principle. At present, there is sufficient space in secondary schools which could be adapted for greater community use, and we feel strongly that this would be the best setting for nursery schools and other childcare provision.

Children and parents who access all day provision prior to starting school find that as the first few months of school is part-time only there is a gap in their childcare needs with very few public sector providers offering the services that are needed. Our example of community schools providing early years education and childcare would address this situation. Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire are already bridging this gap.

Provision for Low Income Families

As highlighted above in the Support for Parenting section, provision of childcare gives access to employment, education and training, leading to increased earnings and reducing dependency on benefits. This will all have the effect of taking children out of poverty who will benefit because of their parents' access to earnings. It can also result in employment of parents in the local community, thus raising the standards in the community as a whole.

The provision of funding for the introduction of the Sure Start Programme for under-3 care, targeted low-income families in the main, and has increased the social inclusion of whole families from disadvantaged areas.

Greater flexibility and choice for parents, e.g. extended day care, to cover parents who work unsocial hours, e.g. night shift, would also help lower income families.

Affordable, universal, childcare would again assist lower income families as it would take the stigma away from those who are granted provision because of their lack of means.

Greater childcare provision can assist social services attempting to keep children out of care. If children from disadvantaged families were given full-time childcare, this can take the pressure off their parents, who may be better able to cope, thus avoiding the necessity for the child to be placed in care.

It is worth noting that childcare provision for most low-income families and those parents whose children have special needs, is provided by the public sector.

Conclusion

UNISON Scotland believes that a comprehensive and integrated package of universal, affordable, early education, care and parental leave could have significant economic and social benefits for children and parents in Scotland.

As we have already stated we are very much aware that a number of crucial factors relevant to an integrated strategy are reserved to Westminster. Nevertheless, UNISON Scotland believes that there is challenge for the Scottish Parliament to address by working with the UK Government and other organisations to remove unnecessary bureaucratic and legislative barriers in order to make early years education and childcare provision in Scotland amongst the best in Europe.

 

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

 

 

Top of page

Submissions index | Home