The appointment of Elizabeth Truss could divide opinion among the early years and childcare sector.
On the one hand the new minister for early years has at least shown an interest in tackling problems to do with the affordability and availability of childcare for families. In fact, you could say she has a keen interest in it.
She has been leading calls for deregulation of childcare, prompting a campaign against them by the National Childminding Association.
Writing in Nursery World in May, she argued for the need for regulatory reform to boost childminder numbers and reduce red-tape for childminders.
‘Despite the Government spending £7bn on childcare, British parents currently pay 27 per cent of their income on childcare. A poorly structured system means that we are not getting value for money, ’she wrote.
She also highlighted the high cost involved in regulating childminders through Ofsted.
Instead Ms Truss advocates an agency model, in line with the Netherlands, where, she said, ‘agencies train and monitor more than 50,000 childminders and nannies, act as intermediaries between parents and childcarers, handling payments and help negotiate the hourly rate.’
An agency model would, she also argues, enable a clearer structure to organise Government funding through tax credits, the free entitlement, and employer childcare vouchers.
Ms Truss is also the author of a report for the think-tank CentreForum calling for major changes to the childcare system in the UK, raising ratios for childminders to 5:1 for the under-fives, as well as an academy status for nurseries and children’s centres.
In fact as far back as 2009, as deputy director of think-tank Reform, Liz Truss was already arguing for deregulation. The report Productive Parents said that the regulation of childcare provision should be reduced, that childcare was costly and inflexible, and that informal childcare had been squeezed out by new regulations.
Demotion for early years?
Whereas Sarah Teather was minister of state for children and families, Liz Truss is parliamentary under-secretary of state, which is a more junior position within the Department for Education hierarchy.
There has been no mention so far of ‘children and families’, although the ministers’ responsibilities and briefs are yet to be officially confirmed by the DfE.
It is believed that David Laws, who has also been appointed a minister within the Cabinet Office, will be a part-time schools minister, focussing on the pupil premium and early intervention.
Edward Timpson, confirmed late on Wednesday as another under-secretary of state, is likely to take on more of the brief held previously by Tim Loughton, focussing on looked-after children and social care. He is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) on Adoption & Fostering and on Looked After Children & Care Leavers.
Does the removal of a senior ministerial position signal a ‘demotion’ for children, families and the early years in terms of the department’s priorities, bulldozed by Gove’s school agenda?