Colin MacLean explains why Scotland needs the Partnership Commission on Childcare Reform
Tell us a bit about yourself
I worked for 40 years in education and as a civil servant in the Scottish Government dealing mainly with children, social care and education issues. From 2002 to 2008 I had policy responsibility for children’s issues, including early years and childcare. As a parent, and now a grandparent, I am familiar with the practical issues faced by the users of childcare services.
What’s the Partnership Commission on Childcare Reform about?
The Partnership Commission will engage widely with providers, users, employ ers and others with an interest in childcare; develop recommendations and seek to build consensus. Key issues will include how childcare can best be organised to meet the needs of families, and how best to meet the costs associated with childcare. We want to understand and work closely with the early years workforce review recently commissioned by the Scottish Government and the early years collaborative being taken forward across Scotland.
Evidence suggests that middle income parents in the UK, including in Scotland, who have pre-school age children pay a higher proportion of their net household income on childcare than in a number of other countries
What are the commission’s main challenges?
Childcare describes many activities, including universal early learning, wrap around care for school age children, targeted support for vulnerable children, regular care for children while parents are at work and temporary crèche-type care. It can be provided by local authorities, the private or the third sector, or informally by friends and family. It can be paid for by the state or by families and is required in urban and rural areas, and by people who are in well-paid jobs or struggling to break into the labour market. In other words – it is highly diverse and a one size fits all approach will not work. The commission needs to consider a very wide range of possibilities but we want to ensure that quality outcomes for the child remain at the centre.
What can be done to bring down the high cost of childcare, now around £100 a week?
How childcare is organised and paid for, and social attitudes towards childcare, vary substantially across countries. For example, evidence suggests that middle income parents in the UK, including in Scotland, who have pre-school age children pay a higher proportion of their net household income on childcare than in a number of other countries. Accessibility, flexibility and convenience are important issues for many families where parents work, or wish to work.These questions, particular about how childcare is paid for, are likely to be difficult to address.
How will the commission make families lives easier?
One of the key early actions for the commission is to talk to families about what they would find helpful, recognising that different families will need different things.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional life?
I was proud and privileged to lead the reform of child protection from 2002 to 2008. Helping to set up and ensure quality systems to protect our most vulnerable children was probably the most important job I could imagine doing as a civil servant. I met and worked closely with some of the most committed and courageous people I have ever known.
Colin MacLean is chair of the Partnership Commission on Childcare Reform