Community highlights early years, student loans and community work at GFTU

Over the weekend of 13-14 May, Community  brought three successful motions before the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU)’s Biennial General Council Meeting (BGCM) 2023.

Early years

Head of Education and Training Tiffany Gilles brought the early years motion, stating:

“When we think about education, our minds naturally think of schools, but in the UK education starts long before the age of 5 and education professionals play a key role.

“Make no mistake, these are not just babysitters, they are trained and experienced early years professionals.”

National Officer for Education & Early Years Helen Osgood said:

“Early years workers are responsible for the formative years of a child’s early education, for equipping that child for many years ahead of schooling.

“This work requires a specific skill set and it can take up to two years to properly train up a worker in the early years sector.”

But we are letting down our children and our early years professionals with a continual failure to fund.

According to the OECD, the UK has some of the highest childcare costs in the world, and the government funding designated to cover the cost of provision is consistently less than the cost of provision.

99% of staff are young women with average wages of just £20,000 per year.  Even managers earn only slightly more at £26-28,000.  And many of those working in the sector are apprentices with wages of just £4.81 an hour.

Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) and an educational psychologist, seconded the motion, saying:

“From before we are born … our brains are being built.  Every experience fires a different neural pathway and in our first few years, more than one million of these connections are made every second.  These are the connections that are responsible for motor, sensory, language, cognitive, social and emotional development – everything that makes us uniquely human.  This is why our early years professional workforce is so important.  They are literally helping to grow brains.”

In order to achieve the promises laid out in the Spring Budget, there will need to be proper investment in the early years.

We urge the Government to secure the employment of, and address the issues faced by, workers in nurseries, and to increase funding in this sector and in the support services that aid them.

Dr Lowther went on to say:

“The Government therefore needs to increase its funding for the early years sector not only to ensure that its workforce is paid appropriately, but also so that early years settings have access to a specialist workforce.

“If a child needs additional support … providing that support as early as possible, is the best route to better outcomes. Without early identification and intervention, it is most likely that needs will escalate, causing distress and potentially blighting lives.”

Community will be launching its Early Years Charter in June and urges everyone in the sector – workers, employers, all MPs and politicians to sign up, to ensure that the early years sector is fully supported.

It is time for the Government to stop paying lip service to the early years and the importance of early intervention and support.

It is time for them to invest in the sector to make a real difference and not just another headline.

Student loans

National Officer for Education & Early Years Helen Osgood raised the issue of student loans, saying:

“Student loans are one of the biggest issues affecting both recruitment and retention of educators in the UK.  At the time of enrolment, students were told ‘not to worry’, as this is a student loan and it won’t have to be paid back until you are earning a ‘good wage’.  But debts for individuals can now be as high as circa £45,000 at the end of their training.”

Recent changes to the loan system means that students will now be eligible to repay their loan as soon as they earn over £25,000.  This means that qualified teachers, amongst other key workers, will begin repayment as soon as they qualify. Not only that, but repayments will continue for up-to 40 years, or until the loan is repaid.

Martin Lewis – the money saving expert – has recently commented on student loans:

“Those on lower to middle incomes are going to pay a lot more because they are repaying for longer.  And those on the highest incomes are going to repay more quickly, and are going to pay less.”

This means the changes will hit those going into education and other public services much harder than private employment and could damage recruitment into the sector at a time when it is already in crisis.

The Government’s current strategy is to offer bursaries to attract new teachers to the profession, however, there is no evidence, that once the teachers have been trained and given a bursary, they are, or will be, retained by the profession.

Community is calling on the GFTU to produce and publish a booklet with real information about student loans, so that the myths around them can be busted.

We also need to see an end to the interest rates on student loans.

Unions in our communities

Community President Dean Cox brought the motion on ‘Unions in our communities’ on embedding organising in the hearts of our communities.

He said:

“To quote [GFTU General Secretary] Doug Nicholls, the words ‘community’ and ‘union’ must surely be two of the greatest in our language because they perfectly express the social and collective nature of human beings and what makes us successful.”

“We know our members’ concerns are not confined to the workplace, and we know that the support we offer them can’t be confined to the workplace either.”

Dean spoke of how supporting affiliated trade unions in:

“local community organising, developing the local community organising training offer provided by GFTU, and embedding community organising and campaigning within everything we do will make things better for our members”.

He said:

“We stand on a proud legacy of fundraising for local and national charities from food banks to veterans and supporting local events and initiatives in our towns and communities.”

And now we:

call on GFTU to lead us on this journey and to ensure we have the resources and backing we need to put organising into the community“.

Find out more

You can read more news here about Community at GFTU’s BGCM.

Find out more about the work of Community in your community.

Further information and support

Community is a modern trade union, representing and supporting workers in every sector of the UK economy.

We’re proud to secure better pay and conditions for our members. Click here to find out more about our member-exclusive benefits and join today.

Join Community

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

Get protection at work, join today!

Do you have insurance on your car, home and phone? Making sure the things you care about are protected against unknown risks is important.

Not a member?
Let’s get to know each other.