Underestimate of eligible parents could cause 30-hour 'capacity crisis'

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New research claims the Government has underestimated the take-up of the 30-hours by more than 100,000 places, saying that as many as 500,000 parents could be eligible, rather than the 390,000 cited by the Government.

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Commissioned by The Pre-School Learning Alliance and carried out by Ceeda, the research claims that tens of thousands of parents could miss out on the extended entitlement because the Government has 'significantly' underestimated the number of families likely to be eligible when it rolls out in September.

The research findings are based upon a survey of 1,708 households with children aged two to three years old carried out last August, along with Office of National Statistics figures. It is part of a wider investigation into parental demand and capacity for the 30 hours.

The survey found that more than four-fifths (88 per cent) of working households, around 478,000 children, meet the eligibility criteria now – 23 per cent higher than the Government estimate of 390,000 children.

Two-fifths (43 per cent) of families in working households earning below the income threshold of £16,000 each plan to change their working hours to meet the criteria, meaning a potential 92 per cent of working households and 500,000 children could be eligible in 2017/18, 28 per cent up on government figures.

Parents who took part in the survey also said that the extended entitlement is likely to encourage them to return to work, which Ceeda warns could put pressure in the future on market capacity and sustainability.

Other findings include:

  • 98 per cent of parents that meet the criteria plan on taking up the 30-hour offer;
  • Eligible parents expect to use an average of 1,057 funded hours per year;
  • More than 50 per cent of parents would like a stretched rather than term-time offer
  • One in four parents using childcare now would leave their current provider in favour of one who could offer all 30 hours. More than a quarter of parents would use two providers if necessary.

The figures come shortly after the Department for Education announced £50m in capital funding to create 9,000 new childcare places, described by the Alliance at the time as ‘a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed’.

The next phase of the research is to gain childcare providers’ views on what the figures mean for their capacity to offer the 30 hours. In the coming weeks, Ceeda will contact a random sample of private, voluntary and independent settings.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘These figures are deeply concerning and suggest that the government has significantly underestimated the likely demand for places under the 30-hour offer.

‘The Department for Education has been clear that the whole point of restricting the scheme to ‘working families’ is to encourage parents to go back to work, yet they don’t seem to have factored even the most modest of adjustments into their figures, such as parents working a few more hours to become eligible.

‘Add to this the fact that many providers are warning that they are planning to either limit the number of 30-hour places they offer, or opt out of the scheme all together, and it’s clear that the Government is heading for a childcare capacity crisis.

‘The Government must do more to support early years providers if the 30-hour scheme is to have any chance of working in the long-term. That means both adequately funding the creation of enough new places, and ensuring that the free entitlement offer in general is funded sufficiently in the long term.’ 

Jo Verrill, managing director of Ceeda, said, ‘To date providers have been asked to plan their provision in the absence of any detailed information on parent demand and likely patterns of take up.

‘This research sheds light on some key questions such as whether parents will switch providers if they can't access all their entitlement with their current setting, the volume of hours they will take and the type of setting they would prefer to use.

‘The final and critical stage of the research is to get providers views on their capacity to offer funded places in view of this new information, as well as recently released funding rates and providers own research with parents in their area. We will be contacting a random sample of private, voluntary and independent settings across the country to get their views; if your setting is selected for the study please do take part, results will be summarised and shared to help the sector prepare for the rollout of the 30 hours in September 2017.’

The Department for Education has been contacted for a comment.

Read the full report https://www.ceeda.co.uk/media/1186/the-facts-on-30-hours_parent-eligbility-and-demand_general-issue_jan-17.pdf

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