The members of a board tasked with reviewing the provision of Early Years services have expressed their frustration after the newly appointed Minister for Children and Education refused to commit to his predecessor’s plan to increase free nursery education to 30 hours.
The former Education Minister, Senator Tracey Vallois, announced in December that from September 2021, parents of children aged three and four will benefit from a 50% increase in free nursery hours from 20 hours to 30 hours.
Following Senator Vallois's resignation, Deputy Jeremy Maçon, who was her Assistant Minister, took on the role of Minister for Children and Education this week, and was questioned by States Members over his intentions for the new role.
Deputy Louise Doublet questioned him about the nursery provision, which was one of the recommendations of the Early Years Policy Development Board, of which she and Deputy Maçon were previously Members, alongside Senator Vallois and the then Children's Minister Senator Sam Mézec.
Deputy Maçon said that Senator Vallois had given “the intention to work towards 30 hours of paid-for provision for the early years”, but that its delivery was subject to “working in consultation with the early years’ providers."
He added that while he hadn’t dropped the commitment, he wanted to look at “all the recommendations holistically."
Deputy Doublet said the Minister's statement wasn't true, as the 30 hours funding had been secured in the Government Plan, but Deputy Maçon rejected that view, saying the funding was to support all recommendations from the board.
“One of the recommendations is the 30-hour intention to achieve that but that was all subject to consultation with the industry,” he said. “Now of course I haven’t dropped that... but we also need to consider the other recommendations within that report for the best outcome for children.”
Pictured: Deputy Jeremy Maçon has been appointed Minister for Children and Education.
Later on, Deputy Maçon was grilled on the topic again, with Senator Mézec asking for reassurance that the plans were not at risk for parents who were looking forward to 30 hours.
“I can only reiterate there are the usual processes that will need to be gone through as normal policy development work occur, we do need to work with the private sector on this, there are commercial interests which need to work through, there are the other political processes that need to be worked through as well, as I say the whole package needs to be looked at,” Deputy Maçon said.
Following the hearing, Deputy Doublet said she was “shocked” that Deputy Maçon had “refused to uphold this commitment… particularly as this was an outcome of the work of the Early Years Policy Development Board (which Deputy Macon and myself were both members of under the previous Minister)”.
She urged parents to share their views with the Minister, adding she would encourage him via all means available to her “to maintain this promise made to children and their families, for which funding has been allocated in the Government Plan”.
Senator Mézec said that the Minister’s refusal to give a straight answer was “not helpful at all to families with young children who will be planning ahead to work out how they can balance their employment with caring for their children”.
“Let’s be clear - free nursery provision is a pro-work and pro-family benefit,” he said in a statement.
“It’s a wonderful way of helping working people enjoy a satisfying family life whilst pursuing their careers too. It’s good for the economy, good for social cohesion and good for children.
“The Minister should 'Put Children First' and commit to upholding the previous Minister’s decision to increase nursery hours.”
Contacted by Express, former Education Minister Senator Vallois said she had been “extremely disappointed and utterly annoyed” by Deputy Maçon’s comments.
She said that, while she held the role, a growth bid had been submitted on the basis of providing 30 hours and that sufficient funding had been granted to allow it to go ahead form September 2021.
Pictured: Senator Tracey Vallois had previously ensured 30 hours of nursery could be provided.
She explained all the work had been done and that the only meeting left was one with the Jersey Early Years’ Association to discuss hourly rates.
She said the new Minister’s position was a “reckless” one to take as many families are currently registering for nursery places and will have been planning for those 30 hours, which she says are good for parents and children but also for the community and economy as a whole.
She added that the uncertainty around the 30 hours could mean some parents will miss out on jobs, something that should be avoided in the time of covid with the number of people actively seeking work having increased.
Senator Vallois also said that as Minister, Deputy Maçon can make the decision to increase the number of hours, regardless of whether the Board had recommended it or not.
“At the end of the day, as a Minister for Education, he can make those decisions,” she said. “It is the remit of the Minister for Education, it is not the remit of the Council of Ministers.”
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