Nurseries ‘face closure’ over skills drive

Nurseries ‘face closure’ over skills drive

Kevin Schofield
The Scotsman

NURSERIES could be forced to close as a result of Scottish Executive plans to make staff in the pre-school sector better qualified, it was claimed yesterday.

A study by academics at Heriot-Watt University showed that childcare providers were concerned that more professional training could push up wage costs and increase red tape.

Of the 300 voluntary-sector nurseries surveyed by the university’s social enterprise institute, more than 60 per cent said they were worried about the cost of boosting staff skills.

Earlier this month, Peter Peacock, the education minister, said nursery managers would have to study for degree-level qualifications within five years as part of plans to improve standards in Scotland’s pre-school sector.

He also announced moves to improve promotion prospects in a bid to increase the profession’s appeal.

‘Over time, the improvement in qualifications will also improve pay and conditions,’ he said. ‘We want to remove for all time any notion that working in the early-years sector is low paid and of a low status.’

But according to Declan Jones, the director of Heriot-Watt’s social enterprise unit, voluntary-sector nurses will face major difficulties in trying to meet the extra costs associated with a better-qualified workforce.

He said: ‘Although the intention to improve the qualifications of the people working in the sector is entirely laudable, it can’t be done in isolation.

‘Because these organisations don’t earn enough through fees to sustain themselves, they have to rely on grant funding, and that can be fragile.

‘Voluntary-sector nurseries are not in it to make money; like the private sector, they are independent organisations trying to meet the needs of parents.’

A spokeswoman for the Executive said it was making extra funding available for nurseries in the voluntary and private sectors in recognition of the extra costs they were facing.

She said: ‘We recognise that the voluntary sector has particular challenges, which is why we have other initiatives, such as the workforce-development fund.

‘We’re committed to developing the professionalism of the entire sector.’