DfE names 30-hour childcare pilot areas

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Eight local authorities will share £13 million to test out the doubling of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds.

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Ministers say the 30-hour childcare offer will enable more parents to return to work

Ministers expect thousands of parents to benefit from the scheme, starting early from September in Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire.

The Department for Education confirmed that parents in the areas will need to meet the eligibility criteria for the offer, that is all parents in the household working more than 16 hours a week at the national minimum or living wage, up to a maximum salary of £100,000 a year per parent.

However, it will be up to each local authority to decide how they will offer the places during the trial.

In addition, 25 areas spread across six regional cluster areas will share £4m to work together as ‘Early Innovators’ on specific issues, such as how to make it easier for providers to offer places for children with disabilities and special educational needs, flexibility, availability of places, and supporting parents to work.

Their experiences will be used to support the expansion of the scheme across England in 2017, so that as many parents as possible will be able to use the 30-hour childcare offer.

The Government will also be testing out a new online eligibility checking system for all childcare entitlements.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said, ‘For too long, rising childcare costs have been a barrier preventing parents and particularly mothers from working.

‘We have made a commitment to help working people, and through this extended offer we will help thousands more parents who want to return to work to do so.’

Childcare minister Sam Gyimah added, ‘I know how important childcare is from my own personal experience and I couldn’t be more determined to make sure we give children the best start in life, support parents to work and as a result, allow our country to prosper.’

But early years organisations stressed that funding must reach childcare providers.

Chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association Purnima Tanuku said that the issue must be a priority of the pilots.

‘If sufficient funding does get through to the frontline, the sector will be able to deliver the high quality early education that parents and children deserve,' Ms Tanuku said. 'The forthcoming National Living Wage, which will increase the average nursery payroll by ten per cent from April needs to be factored in when looking at the investment needed to make this work.'

She said she was pleased that early innovators would be looking at areas such as caring for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

‘This is a particular challenge for the sector to ensure that the provision is meeting the level of need for each child and is funded appropriately. They also need to look at capacity for delivering this ambitious plan and the difficulties facing nurseries regarding recruitment and retention of qualified staff.’

NDNA is also calling for simple eligibility testing for the 30 hours, so that parents can easily access and understand it and providers are not hampered by administration.

Ms Tanuku added that there was ‘a strong case for merging all the funding streams into one pot in the form of an online account for each child. We would like to see this idea embedded in the pilots and developed before the 2017 national roll-out.’

Commenting on the pilots, Labour claimed that childcare costs had risen by 30 per cent since 2010 and that the number of childcare places had fallen by over 40,000.

Jenny Chapman, Labour’s shadow minister for childcare and early years, said, ‘One-in-three working parents promised free childcare by David Cameron at the last election will now miss out because ministers are unable to add up properly. Despite reducing eligibility by 200,000 families, the Government still has a half-a-billion black hole in their plans.

‘With no strategy to raise the quality of childcare, and the sustainability of many childcare providers in doubt due to the shortfall, ministers must do better. The Tories’ pre-election rhetoric on childcare has failed to match reality and parents, children and our economy will pay the price.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'Given how little research has been done into the potential impact of the 30-hours offer to date, it’s important that these pilots are used effectively to gain a better understanding of how the scheme is likely to work in practice. This means making an honest assessment of any challenges around, for example, funding, capacity and impact on quality, and taking the necessary steps to address them – including further investment into the scheme.
 
'According to DfE data, parents of three- and four-year-olds currently use around 18 hours of childcare a week on average and so clearly a move from 15 Government-funded hours a week to 30 is going to have a significant impact on providers, both on their ability to provide sufficient places and their ability to remain financially viable. It is vital that the Government recognises this and works in partnership with the sector to ensure that the scheme is, in fact, deliverable in the long term.'

 

The 25 Early Innovator areas

North West: Stockport, Bolton, Trafford, Cheshire West & Chester, Bury

Midlands: Nottinghamshire, Nottingham City, Walsall

South West: Cornwall

South & South East: Hampshire, West Sussex, Medway, East Sussex, Brighton & Hove

London & East: Kingston & Richmond, Barking & Dagenham, Islington, Ealing, Hillingdon

North East & Yorkshire and the Humber: Gateshead, Bradford, Sheffield, Eastriding, Wakefield, North Yorkshire.

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