Last week, Elizabeth Truss spoke at the NDNA conference in Peterborough. Here’s a transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered.

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“Thank you. I am very pleased to be at this interesting venue and to get out of Westminster. It can sometimes feel like a bit of a bubble. And I know Purnima (Tanuku, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association) spends quite a lot of time in Westminster, I’m sure she agrees with me on that.

The other week I went to visit a Busy Bees nursery on Horseferry Road. I thought I would escape from some of my fellow politicians and spend the morning chatting with people working at the nursery, play with some jelly maybe, and read some stories to children.

And I had a fantastic time at the nursery. They have an excellent chef there, who produces all the meals from scratch, and they looked delicious actually.

Anyway, so I was trying to escape politics. But what I saw the minute I walked in the door – I think it was the first person I saw – was a politician from another political party dropping his son off at the nursery. And then I saw the director of a think tank dropping her daughter off at the nursery. So much for getting away from politics, and in fact the nursery is actually part of the Home Office.

What this really brought to life to me is how everybody now relies on childcare and nurseries, whatever profession you work in: whether you work in politics, whether you’re in business, whatever you do for a living, it’s something that’s now universal, that we regard as part and parcel of our everyday lives.

And this is a trend across the world. In every leading country now, dual-income families are the norm, day nurseries are a really key part of what we all rely on as citizens, both to support our working lives but also to make sure that our children are developing well, benefitting from early education, and benefitting from early learning.

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the issue of stay-at-home mothers. At the moment in Britain, 67% of mothers – two-thirds of mums – go out to work, for a lot of families it’s an absolute necessity. We know that we’re living in difficult economic times and parents rely on what you do.

So I completely agree with Purnima, you do a fantastic job across the country, we absolutely rely on what you do, and we’re very keen as a government to work with Purnima and the NDNA on how we can make things better and definitely get more money to the front line.

Now I did mention mothers being employed, but I think it’s important to mention the increased role that fathers have in bringing up children and taking responsibility for doing things like organising childcare. My colleague Matthew Hancock – who’s the Skills Minister – has just gone on paternity leave and I like to see him as a pilot of our new shared parental leave policy.

He’s taking a few months off – he got a bit of flak for that – which I think is wrong because it’s so important that we support what modern families want to do and we support the choices that they make, whether that’s staying at home, whether that’s having good quality childcare, whether that’s sharing parental leave between mums and dads. We need to give people those choices and those flexibilities and those options because we know modern life is very fast, it can be tough and it’s really important that people have that support.

The importance of early years

As I’ve said, we are committed to affordability, and the availability of high-quality early years education and childcare.

We know that how a child’s brain develops in the first years of their life has a massive and enduring impact on the rest of their life. In fact the brain is 80% developed by the age of 3.

The MPs Andrea Leadsom, Frank Field and Graham Allen – along with George Hosking of the WAVE Trust – have all published thoroughly-researched reports that reveal how huge a difference high-quality early years education makes, not least to disadvantaged children.

All the evidence from across the world shows the value of a good early education.

The Sutton Trust has found a 19-month vocabulary gap between the poorest and richest children at the age of 5.

Our teenagers are well behind those in Hong Kong and Singapore for maths – but that gap is already present by age 5. The early years is so important and so vital.

Vocabulary at age 5 is the best predictor of later social mobility for children from deprived backgrounds.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, has rightly said that “too many children – especially those that are poor,” are “not well enough prepared for school, particularly in key skills such as communication, language and literacy”.

In fact a third of children start school without basic language and communication skills. In poorer areas, this rises to more than a half. And what’s particularly worrying is that although we have very high take-up of our 3- and 4-year-old education places, the take-up is much lower amongst those from very deprived backgrounds. So it’s the children who need it most who are benefitting least.

Our pilot for 2-year-olds showed that higher-quality settings have a positive impact the language ability of 3-year-olds, whereas those who are not high-quality don’t. And parents have told us that higher-quality settings improved their own skills. I think working with parents is a really important role of nurseries as well as working with children.

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has written that “staff qualifications are one of the strongest predictors of the quality of early childhood education and care.”

One of the things that really concerns me as a minister – and I know that Purnima has just been talking about cost – is the massive differential we still have in salaries between early years and primary school. That isn’t the case elsewhere and I don’t think it’s right that the average primary school teacher is earning £33,000 and the average person working in childcare earns £13,000.

I don’t think that gap is justifiable, particularly as we know the massive impact that high-quality early years education can have.

Changes to Ofsted

Ofsted are changing the inspection and regulatory regime, to make it both more comprehensive and more focused. Ofsted will increase the number of HMIs covering the early years. They’re recruiting at the moment, they’ve already recruited new staff, to make sure the quality of inspectors is what it should be. As professionals you deserve to have inspectors who are highly-qualified, know what they’re doing, and can do a good job.

I know Sir Michael is very committed to recruiting them and the Department for Education has given Ofsted additional budget to recruit those inspectors because it was one of the weaknesses. There were not sufficient numbers of HMI inspectors in the early years. Starting from this September, Ofsted has been recording the qualifications that providers have, to focus more on that specific outcome.

From September last year, Ofsted has been structured in a regional way, with HMIs in each region dedicated to that region, meaning that there will be much more insight into the quality of local provision, which I think is really  good.

There are 8 regions, each of which has a director. Their numbers include an executive headteacher and a very experienced Director of Children’s Services.

Regional variations in the quality of early years provision are too wide. In some local authorities 80% of early years providers were judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their last inspection, but in others it was less than 60%. And we want to make sure that we have universal standards that are common across the country.

Local authorities have a very important role to play in attracting high-quality providers to their areas. The new regional structure of Ofsted will mean it is easier for Ofsted to work with local authorities. From some nurseries I’ve heard that there are sometimes mixed messages, so providers will get different messages from the local authority than from Ofsted.

It’s really important there are clear messages so that you know as providers what’s expected from you.

In ‘More great childcare’ we promised to increase the role and number of  HMIs who are dedicated to early years.

One of their roles is running ‘getting to good’ seminars. These will look at how a provider improves quality and meets Ofsted requirements – and work with weaker providers.

Another, related, role is in helping to broker links between weaker providers and good ones – be they nurseries, schools or children’s centres.

I do want to reassure you that I recognise that we need to be fairer to nurseries, and more consistent. That is something we are working on. It’s obviously a gradual process in terms of recruiting those people, getting more consistency, as with any change in government it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but we are working on that because we think it’s really important.

Another way in which we will make the system fairer is by creating a new route for paid-for re-inspection. As Purnima mentioned, the Ofsted judgement is really important for a nursery and can have a strong impact on the sustainability of your business.

So if a nursery that received a ‘satisfactory’ rating has taken steps to reach ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, this must be recognised and promptly updated so you don’t have to wait so long for the next inspection.

I’m sure Sue (Gregory, Ofsted’s National Director of Early Years) will have more to say about this when she speaks to you.

Local authorities

By having Ofsted focus on inspection and regulation, local authorities will be able to concentrate on encouraging high-quality provision in their area.

Where providers still value the training and support they receive from local authorities, local authorities will still have an important role to play with those providers.

They also need to ensure that children are taking up places to which they are entitled, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Local authorities and their local agencies – whether it is the family information services or Sure Start children’s centres – have a vital role to play in ensuring that all eligible parents understand what their child is entitled to, and get the support they need to access their child’s place.

Children’s centres primarily support families’ emotional resilience by providing services for child development, parenting, and raising family aspirations. And we’ve listened to those of you who have said there does need to be more consistency between these different organisations working together.


One thing we’re doing about funding – and we’ve had some comments about how much funding is going to the front line – is introducing a tax-free childcare scheme, which will be an online scheme.

One of the issues at the moment with the childcare vouchers is an awful lot of those vouchers is taken up in administration.

The new tax-free childcare scheme will be much more efficient. The administration costs will be more like 2 or 3%, rather than a third of the cost. It will be an easy system for parents to access online and far more parents will benefit than do at the moment.

At the moment only 5% of employers offer the employer vouchers.

It’s also difficult because it’s based on the household rather than the child, so at the moment if you’re in a household where 2 parents are eligible for vouchers with 1 child, you’ll get paid twice, but if you’re in a household where only 1 parent is eligible for the vouchers and you have 2 children, then you’ll only get paid once.

We don’t think that’s fair. We think it should be on the basis of per-child, which makes it more similar to the early years funding. And it will be a universal offer.

Those parents on low incomes will continue to get 70% of their childcare costs paid, through universal credit, so we will have a system where if you’re in a middle or a higher income you’ll get 20% of your costs, if you’re on a lower income you’ll get 70% of your costs paid.

One of the issues is setting up the IT system, which is always an interesting prospect, when it comes to government IT, so that’s why we will only be able to introduce the scheme in 2015. We want to get it right; we are working with providers – I think it’s very important that you’re all involved so it’s an easy scheme for providers to work, as well as the parents who are going to be using it.

The other thing we are working on is trying to improve the transparency and simplicity of the funding that we provide through the early years education offer through the Department of Education.

We do want to maximise the amount of funding reaching the front line. I’ve had a lot of representations on this from nurseries. There is clearly unfairness in the system, about the amount that different local authorities get.

One of the things we’re doing is getting more transparency on that, so currently we are getting data from local authorities about exactly what they’re paying for different types of provider. That will help us analyse the situation better, because one of the issues we struggle with is that the Department for Education pays money to local authorities, they then devise their own funding rates, so we don’t know at present how much is going through to providers so at least we will have more information. And we’ve already gathered that information and we’re cleaning up the data at the moment, so we’ll be able to do that.

Nurseries need a clear, single rate so that they can determine whether to want to be part of the offer. We were able to announce last November what each local authority would be given to implement early learning for 2-year-olds.

We also published estimates of how many children would be eligible in each area. It’s not a perfect system but I think it’s an improvement on transparency on the previous system.

The national rate is £5.09 an hour, which outstrips the £4.26 an hour that the Daycare Trust has found to be the average charge for a place. This equates to a premium of around £475 a year for each place.

There’s a round £150 million in trajectory building funding and £100 million in capital for local authorities being made available too, which will support the expansion of Early Learning in 2014, the criteria and details for which we will be announcing shortly.

As I’ve mentioned, we are now collecting data for 3- and 4-year-olds to try and improve the delivery of early education places. I’ll be working with bodies like the NDNA on that.

I think it’s really important that providers are clear about the funding available in each local authority. I also want to have more of a dialogue with nurseries about costs. One of the issues we’ve got is estimating the cost of a childcare place in different parts of the country. There will obviously be some providers who do things differently from other providers.

What we’ve been doing at the Department for Education is our economists have been working on a costing model, a bottom-up model, actually looking at staffing costs, ancillary costs, premises costs and so on.

And I’d be very interested, Purnima, in facilitating a discussion with you and your organisation so nurseries can go into the Department for Education and see economists and talk about the cost-base. When we’ve got proper information from the local authorities about what they’re paying out, and good information from nurseries about their cost-base, that’s the way we can start to get to the bottom of making sure the funding is more efficient.

The importance of collaboration

I also think it’s important that parents have a choice of different types of provision and that we have more collaboration between them. So nurseries, childminders, and schools.

Childminder numbers – and especially the number of younger childminders – have fallen over the last 20 years. We are working on a policy of childminder agencies to improve the numbers of childminders and provide a high-training, high-quality access route into the profession.

Agencies will be inspected by Ofsted, and be a source of business and other practical help. They will be self-financing and independent of government. It will not be obligatory to join them, but new childminders – and many existing ones – may well find that agencies offer a support network and a more secure way of working.

Over 60 organisations have expressed an interest in working with us to trial elements of childminder agencies. They are a mix ranging from nursery chains to individual childminders, academies, maintained schools, national childcare organisations, children’s centres and local authorities.

We’re going to be working on testing out the concept, testing out the business model, and the regulatory system. But I can reassure you that Ofsted will be keeping a very close eye on the childminders within those agencies to make sure that quality is maintained during that process.

Once we’ve completed the trials we will then consult on the regulation around childminder agencies.

Those who remain independent will not be formally or informally compelled to join an agency. But I strongly hope that this will increase the number of childminders in our system and also more of a seamless service for parents will be very attractive. It will also provide a one-stop shop for parents where they want it.

I also want us to see more collaboration between schools and private, voluntary and independent nurseries. I know this does happen where schools will have an offer for age 4 and up, and they will also have a PVI provider onsite. I know it works very well at present.

I recently visited the free school in Norwich which offers onsite, affordable childcare as part of their pre-school and post-school service. They collaborate with the local nursery, so the nursery provides staff for the after-school club and the pre-school club. It’s called the Squirrels Club and it works very well and they’ve adjusted their shift patterns to cope with the work at the school and the work at the nursery.

I think some of these models are very interesting for busy parents who may have a younger child and an older child and would like a single site to operate on. I see really strong scope for more collaboration between the PVI sector and schools offering seamless provision for parents.

The other thing about the Norwich free school is that it is open for 51 weeks of the year, which I know will be no surprise to anybody in this room but it is quite unusual in the schools sector.

We’re also looking at engaging businesses and other organisations in childcare and again I know this happens frequently, and I quoted the case of the Home Office earlier. But other organisations have a strong interest in making sure that parents have access to high-quality childcare.

Rainbows nursery, which is part of RAF Marham in my constituency – and which was set up by the RAF itself – is absolutely brilliant. It’s a really good example of how nurseries can cater to the particular needs of parents. Quite often these children will find that their mother or father is going away for quite long deployments and the nursery staff is specifically trained to deal with these issues. I think it’s a really good example of how an employer can collaborate with an independent nursery to create a really good setting that suits those children and those parents.

Encouraging more people to enter early years

We now have more graduates than ever before in early years, and we are continuing to invest in and raise the profile of early years as an area where it is aspirational to work. There are 12,000 early years professionals, and we will build on what they have achieved as we move to the early years teacher model.

Of course, anyone who works with children needs a wide range of qualities, not all of these can be quantified by degrees or diplomas. I know that there are lots of brilliant people working in early years all over the country that don’t necessarily have the qualifications.

Yet that does not undermine the case for greater skills and better qualifications. What I want to make sure is that we recognise the diversity of provision within the qualifications we’re creating, like early years teachers and early years educators. So for example this week I was talking to some people from Montessori about how we could make sure some of their qualifications could be recognised by us as part of the system.

We want to have very high quality and very high standards but we want to allow flexibility of practice. So we have different types of nurseries and parents have a choice about what they’re getting.

It is absolutely vital that we bring a greater number of highly-qualified individuals into the early years. This is why we are championing early years teachers.

Early years teachers will be specifically trained to work with babies and young children. The first programme begins this September. We’ve already been consulting on the criteria. Trainees will need to meet the same requirements as trainee primary school teachers: a degree and passing English and maths tests.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership has consulted on the new Teachers Standards, and they will be published in July.

Early years teachers will support and lead other staff.

Charlie Taylor, the Chief Executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, was due to speak to you tomorrow. I am very sorry he can’t be here, and I know he is too.

He is an inspirational character and I think you would have really enjoyed his talk. I know that you have probably met him, but Charlie has done a brilliant job in raising the profile of teaching overall, and he really wants to make sure there is more of a presence of the National College in the early years. He sees that as a core part of his job, which is really important.

I hope we can fix up another date for him to address the NDNA because he has a really inspiring vision which I think it would be great to hear more about.

Teach First has been incredibly successful in bringing talented new people into schools. From this September it will include 3- and 4-year-olds. Teach First graduates can make a big contribution, especially in disadvantaged areas.

What we’re trying to do is make sure that education is seen as a continuum. I’d like to see Teach First come into other settings apart from school settings, and make sure that this area has a really high profile.

Early education qualifications have been far too diffuse and lacking in rigour. There are hundreds of existing and historic early years qualifications.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership has consulted on new criteria for Early Years Educator Level 3 qualifications, and will publish them soon. Awarding organisations will then start developing higher quality qualifications to be introduced in September 2014.

The new criteria will not be applied retrospectively, so current practitioners will not be unfairly disadvantaged.

Early years educators will be qualified at level 3. Apprenticeships will offer a high quality route to becoming one. Lasting 20 months on average, they will combine employment with study towards recognised qualifications. Those students will need C grades or better in English and maths.

Early years educator qualifications will be introduced in 2014, and we have put in place a transitional measure to run ahead of that.

We expect that early years educators will often assist early years teachers. Training courses will be expected to include a lot of practical work experience in good quality workplaces. We will work with further education and trainers to improve standards.

This September we are also putting £2 million towards a bursary scheme, for a level 3 early years Advanced Apprenticeship for the Children and Young People’s Workforce. There will be up to 1,000 places, with each bursary worth £1,500, plus an additional £300 for more training to work with 2-year-olds. The bursaries are available from this September this year.

This is a transitional measure until September 2014, when the new early years educator qualification comes in.

Applicants need to locate an apprenticeship position with a provider that works in early education for 2-year-olds. And they will also need a C grade or better in GCSE English and maths.

The scheme will be run by the National College for Teaching and Leadership and is open to people of all ages. I very much encourage everyone in this room to get involved.

More details about how to apply for all of these schemes can be found on the DfE website.

The College of West Anglia in King’s Lynn says that there is a big demand for such apprenticeships, which is really encouraging. They’ve noticed a real increase in the number of students wanting to work in the early years. They think this will be even more of a boost.


We know important having high-quality, affordable available childcare is. It’s getting more and more important. The salience of it in terms of political debate shows that.

We can work together to make sure that the money the government’s spending, which is over £5 billion, works better in the system. We can work together to make sure more of it is going to the front line, more of it is going into high-quality provision.

I also think we can simplify things. At the moment there is a great deal of complexity. When I became early years education minister lifting the bonnet was quite an experience – just seeing how complex it is!

I want to make it easier for high-quality operators to open in the nursery sector and be financially sustainable because I think that is what’s good for children, that is what’s good for parents, and that is what’s good for our country.

Thank you very much.”

Reproduced under Open Government License.

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