SCMA helps to inform Northern Ireland’s future childcare strategy

SCMA helps to inform Northern Ireland’s future childcare strategy
Graeme McAlister, Chief Executive of SCMA, took part in an All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare session for Northern Ireland yesterday, to share insights from childminders’ experiences of the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) in Scotland and from SCMA’s role in supporting childminding to help inform the development of a future childcare strategy for Northern Ireland.

SCMA welcomed the opportunity to participate in this virtual session and share our experiences in Scotland for the benefit of others. As part of our presentation, Graeme highlighted:

  • the legislative and regulatory framework in Scotland and that SCMA was very supportive of the flagship ELC policy aimed at closing the attainment gap in Scotland, but that there had been a number of challenges arising from implementation including – while some local authorities have been supportive of childminding, too many have been slow to include childminders in delivering funding hours and that a 22% reduction in the childminding workforce has been experienced in parallel to ELC local authority nursery expansion.
  • the need to ensure childminding is available as an option nationally and locally to support parental choice.
  • a number of on-going challenges for the sector, and particularly for childminders in Scotland, with concerns relating to workforce sustainability, financial viability and the impact of COVID-19.
  • SCMA’s role in influencing and informing the recent Action Plan on Childminding, and in supporting childminders during the pandemic (through contributing to national recovery discussions, providing practice updates and securing vital financial support).
  • the importance of changing perceptions of childminding and increasing the value attached to childcare and childminding, which forms another strand of our new strategy.
Graeme McAlister, Chief Executive of SCMA, said: “We were delighted to be asked to participate in this All Party Group session aimed at informing Northern Ireland’s future childcare strategy. This meeting was a valuable opportunity to promote childminding and to share childminders’ experiences of ELC expansion in Scotland, some of the challenges encountered and lessons learned with colleagues from out with Scotland.”

Despite approaches to policy being very different in each of the countries, clear and shared themes did emerge during the session. In particular, issues around funding, gender inequalities and the value of the workforce was highlighted as issues – but a shared emphasis on ensuring that the child is at the heart of policy development was recognised by all. 

In addition, the impact and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic was also highlighted by everyone at the meeting, highlighting that COVID-19 has further exacerbated the issues. This is something that SCMA is very much aware of, and something that we aim to tackle as part of our new three-year strategy, which is launching soon. 

In Scotland, developments in ELC continue to be a flagship policy for the Scottish Government with a strong focus on early intervention, and the introduction of the expansion – which has been delayed until to August 2021 due to COVID-19 – will ensure 1,140 hours a year of funded ELC is available for all three and four year olds, and eligible two year olds.
Alongside hearing Scotland’s perspective from SCMA, the group also heard another two informative and engaging presentations from other experts in the field of early education and childcare, from England and Ireland. 

Commenting on the meeting, Chris Lyttle MLA, who chaired the meeting, said: “It was both interesting and informative to learn more about policy developments across the UK and Ireland. I would like to sincerely thank each of our expert speakers for their time and the insights that they have shared. 

It’s important that going forward we can learn from their experience and apply this learning to inform a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland, which is much needed and long overdue to support parents and our vital childcare sector, as well as facilitating the economic and social recovery from COVID-19.

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