Liz Truss’s lies on childcare
Yesterday, with her Telegraph piece on childcare, the new Education Minister Liz Truss broke the embargo (to 1pm today) on IPPR’s Double Dutch report, which is a total dismantling of her earlier ‘research’ paper Affordable Quality: new approaches to childcare.
This clear breach of protocol, whereby IPPR sent her the report in advance of its publication to allow her to digest it, reflects her desperation to get the first word in, and to apply one of the golden rules of spin: if you don’t like the news, try to make sure it looks like old news.
Truss’s ‘research’ (and I do use the term loosely) focuses on the model for funding of childcare developed in Holland in the 2000s, and the recommendations reflect the free market ideology she espouses, in particular the deregulation of adult:child ratios and the development demand-side funding (subsidies to parents, not providers).
The IPPR report debunks Truss’s work rigorously, showing how her ‘findings’ about how the very high cost of childcare in Britain compared with other OECD countries is flawed, how she fails to assess the very clear failures of the Dutch model, and how much better lessons might be drawn from Denmark rather than Holland.
I can’t hope to do the IPPR work justice* here, but it’s worth picking out a couple of factors in both Truss’s report and her Telegraph face-saving piece, since both reflect her willingness to be flexible with facts when it suits her ideological aims to be so.
First, there’s this from Truss:
The UK childminder ratios are particularly restrictive, with a 3:1 ratio being required for childminders looking after under fives. In the Netherlands that ratio is 5:1. For children under one the ratio in the UK is 1:1 whilst in the Netherlands it is 2:1.
This is IPPR’s rejoinder:
The regulations in England governing who childminders can care for is actually more flexible than the Truss report implies. The Early Years Foundation Stage makes clear that childminders can look after up to six children under the age of eight at one time, so long as no more than three are under the age of five and no more than one is under the age of one.
That’s very polite from IPPR, as befits a think-tank, but I can be less polite. Truss is simply telling lies, so desperate is she to prove her ‘red tape’ theory.
Then there’s this in her Telegraph follow-up:
There are, however, some encouraging signs that childcare is becoming a more attractive profession for graduates. The percentage of paid staff holding a higher level qualification rose from 65 per cent in 2007 to 79 per cent in 2011.
Here, her purpose seems to be to reassure her readers us that quality of provision will be just fine, and that all that needs doing is a bit cost-slashing (and actually the reverse of Professor Nutbrown’s findings in a report on qualifications and training commissioned by the government and supposedly “welcomed” when it was delivered in March 2012).
Unfortunately, she’s lying again. She’s taken the figures from this Department for Education publication, which says (p.91):
Amongst paid staff in group based childcare settings, there were similar increases in the proportion holding at least a level 3 qualification, rising from 65 per cent in 2007 to 76 per cent in 2010 and 79 per cent in 2011.
There are actually two lies here. First, she elides the distinction between ‘childcare’ in general, and the ‘group based childcare settings’, conveniently ignoring the fact that childminders – the providers she wants to promote most – have much lower levels of level 3 qualifications (59% in 2011, from the same report, two paras higher).
Second, and more seriously, she says that childcare is becoming more attractive to graduates, and then deliberately uses the term ‘higher level’ instead of ‘level 3’, in a tawdry attempt to imply that 79% of paid staff are graduates. In fact level 3 is an A level equivalent, and Truss’s usage of ‘higher level’ to describe this is even contradicted on p.92 of the same DfE report:
Focusing specifically on high level qualifications, the proportion of all staff qualified to at least level 6 has increased at a slower rate in absolute terms, rising from 11 per cent in 2007 to 15 per cent in 2011 (my emphasis).
Taken together, this paints a very worrying picture of a new Education minister prepared to follow in her new mentor’s footsteps, and use deliberate lies to push her extremist policy agenda.
On this occasion, thankfully IPPR have been rigorous enough to debunk her, and force her into underhand tactics. It is little surprise that she declined to take part in a radio 4 piece with IPPR’s Nick Pearce today.
* I don’t agree with the broad framework for the IPPR report, which suggests that childcare improvements must be brought about without any further public investment (not possible, frankly), but that’s not for today.