Extended Schools and Children’s Services

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2006 Local Government Service Group Conference
24 February 2006
Carried as Amended

UNISON notes the Government’s commitment to improving children’s services across the UK. Each country is designing specific programmes promising to be designed to meet the needs of children, young people and their families.

However, the preference for external providers as expressed most clearly in the Child Care Bill 2005 in England, gives cause for concern about quality of services. This Bill makes it the responsibility of local authorities to provide ‘suitable and sufficient’ childcare to parents in their area, but makes clear that such provision can only be provided by local authorities as a last resort. Whilst we have had assurances from government that this applies to new provision only, we are already aware of attempts by some authorities to include current provision of children’s services in a wide ranging review of delivery.

England is piloting radical changes, some of which may well benefit children and be good for members. Unfortunately some proposals give grounds for concern.

Two areas in particular present both opportunities and threats. Proposals for ‘extended services’ in schools for all parents who want them by 2010 and an extension of the ‘Sure Start’ programme that would lead to 3,500 Children’s centres represents a massive expansion of provision. Following this Phase 2 is expected to be self financing, and will, therefore create further problems for local authorities. Such services are meant to be inter-linked and indeed it is expected that many Children’s centres will be co-located on primary schools.

This could offer new job opportunities and the chance for current workers to extend their hours and/or join up contracts. For other staff however there is a danger that they could have their hours extended and be asked to work earlier and/or later in the day.

We know that pay and training of staff working in early year’s settings is significantly worse in the private and voluntary sector than public sector equivalents and so forcing new provision here is highly unlikely to produce the high quality workforce the government have called for.

The planned, seamless high quality childcare, education and family support could therefore fail because of the dogma of ‘contestability’.

Conference calls for the Local Government SGE to campaign to ensure that:

1)The artificial restrictions that restrict local authorities from direct delivery of future child care services are removed

2)Current local authority children’s services are not outsourced under provisions identified for new services

3)Children’s services remain properly accountable through local democratic structures

4)Fair pay and conditions are provided for all staff delivering children’s services, with provision of proper training and opportunities for enhanced career pathways

5)Current staff working in the sector are not further exploited, that additional responsibilities and working hours are not forced on staff and that proposals to change contracts are negotiated with unions to ensure adequate reward and proper staffing levels

6)UNISON – as the leading union covering children’s services staff – is consulted on all new children’s services initiatives