MEMBERS of the Legislative Assembly have shown a stout will to support high quality affordable nursery provision.
They unanimously supported a Motion presented by MLA Barry Elsby on Thursday that noted it was, “essential if our children are to reach their true potential.”
Nurseries in Stanley have faced a number of difficulties over the years including some being situated in unsuitable buildings, high running costs and a lack of qualified staff available.
MLA Elsby, said there were few families in the Islands where both parents did not work, “indeed FIG offers single parents subsidised places in nurseries to enable them to work more.”
He said a big concern in the most recent report by the Lucy Faithful Foundation was unregulated, and uninspected nurseries, adding, that anyone could set up a nursery in the Falklands regardless of their criminal past.
He explained: “There is no requirement to undertake police checks on employees, although all the nurseries do. There are no standards as to how many children can be looked after in a nursery at any one time or how many staff are required.”
Having said that, he noted that, all nurseries were desperate to improve and had worked enthusiastically with the Early Years co-ordinator and the Education Department in trying to follow good standards and take up training opportunities.
“However, a salary often in the region of only £6 per hour with no sick or annual leave means there is a high turn-over of staff with the result that many of the people working in our nurseries remain untrained,” he qualified.
He went on to compare that situation with FS1 “a government funded nursery,” saying, “when that was set up the Government rightly insisted we have qualified teachers and highly trained assistants and that we would follow all recommended UK standards, be inspected by the visiting Ofsted inspector and, of course, pay the same as teachers and LSAs in the Junior and Community schools.”
He outlined the dissatisfaction of parent with regard to some aspects of Falklands’ nurseries, some feeling they were unsafe and others unhappy they were not learning environments.
He said a report by Alana Arculus also presented evidence that nearly a quarter of parents were paying 30 per cent of their income on childcare, and almost 10 per cent were paying over 50 per cent.
After giving a number of arguments for his Motion, MLA Elsby said: “Life-long learning, something our Government strongly supports, clearly starts at birth.”
He said, “We owe it to our children and the country to commit to raising the standards of all nurseries in the Islands to the level seen in FS1 over the next five years.
“This will mean our Government meeting a significant proportion of the costs but we must view it as an investment.”
MLA Michael Poole seconded the Motion and said he now believed Government had a duty to support nurseries and to support parents.
He said they needed to agree an action plan in the coming weeks, the first steps being some basic regulation and standards that were not too onerous.
He also believed the Government should look at partnership investment between FIG and the private sector in existing nursery infrastructure, and ensure it met those agreed basic standards.
Finally he said they should examine, “the much more difficult question of how the Government could support families in affording this higher quality nursery care and also in ensuring that work in the field of nursery provision is a viable and attractive career choice.”
MLA Poole believed another part of the policy could also be examined, such as the support of families, particularly within the planned review of employment law, plus look at maternity and paternity provision.
He said FIG could look at, “building in greater ability for flexible working within the Government as an employer, but also within employment law itself…”
He also felt it could form part of the social budgeting policy.
Referring to a point made by Gordon Ackroyd of FIDC he reiterated that they should aspire for excellence but be realistic about it: “We are a small community, having world class nursery provision is frankly just not realistic. He said: “We need minimum standards but we need to keep in the back of our minds that we are not going to get the level of care you might get in some places elsewhere in the world with larger populations and we are always likely to need to draw on specialised and highly technical care from elsewhere as we do currently in terms of sending people away or bringing specialists in.”
MLA Poole felt that only with proper public/private partnership, “can we achieve the dual goals of affordable and quality nursery provision and I think we should be making it a priority over the coming weeks.”
MLA Jan Cheek spoke of the potential for vouchers for nursery care, a concept she has long mooted, and MLA Phy Rendell noted that the issue was being “gripped” by the Department of Education and they should soon be receiving a report on the issue, from Alana Arculus.
She said the recent public meeting had clarified for her the various needs of parents including both nursery care and what was referred to as wrap around care, for older children whose parents were still working when school finished. She felt FIG should be involved in nurseries and there was an opportunity for public and private sector to work together probably on wrap around care.
MLA Mike Summers said the issue was about the practicalities as his colleague had outlined and that it was complex and required a lot of work. He said nothing would happen until they had some proposals on the table from the Department of Education to enable them to make some decisions… “so let’s get on with it and let’s see something.”