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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835