'30 hours at risk of not living up to parents' expectations'

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New research from the Family and Childcare Trust raises concerns over the availability and quality of childcare when the 30 hours starts in September.

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The Family and Childcare Trust research raises concerns that there won't be enough places for the 30 hours of free childcare

Three-quarters of Family Information Services in England that responded to the survey on the 30 hours.

More than half of respondents (54 per cent) said they didn’t know if there would be enough childcare places for three- and four-year-olds wanting to take up the extended entitlement in their area, and more than one in ten (13 per cent) said that there wouldn't be enough places. Just a third said there would be enough capacity.

On top of this, 44 per cent of local authorities believe that the extended entitlement will in the longer-term lead to the closure of settings because of their reduced financial sustainability.

Some respondents thought that the 30 hours could impact on families taking up just the 15 hours of free childcare, including less availability and flexibility of places, as well as leading to increased fees for hours outside the free entitlement.

More than 20 per cent thought that costs for two-year-olds and under would increase, and 37 per cent that this would be the case for three and four-year-olds taking places outside the free hours.

The Trust said that this was potentially a ‘significant’ concern for parents.

The survey also found that a third of local authorities expect that the 30 hours will result in reductions to the quality of care.

The Trust says the findings raise fears that the extended entitlement will not live up to parents' expectations.

In a separate report by the childcare charity, providers, parents and early years experts raise concerns that the 30-hour offer will lead to:

  • a reduction to available childcare because of children attending settings for more hours during the day, and the closure of settings due to financial unviability;
  • a shortage of provision for disadvantaged children and those with SEND;
  • parents only using providers that offer the extended entitlement;
  • difficulties recruiting high-quality staff at slightly higher rates of pay because of funding pressures;
  • not being able to charge for "extras", such as lunch to make the free hours financially viable;
  • cuts to local authority support because of a reduction in funding.

The report, ‘No Shortcuts: quality and the free childcare extension’, goes on to make a number of recommendations.

It calls on the Government to commit to an annual review of funding levels informed by evidence gathered by local authorities on the cost of delivering high-quality early education across the country.

It also recommends that clearer guidance for providers on delivering the 30 hours be provided – including the charges that can be passed on to parents for activities and services, as well as improved access to early education for children with SEND by equalising inclusion requirements between PVI and maintained providers and through statutory guidance on Inclusion Funds.

Another recommendation is that the roll out of the 30-hour offer be evaluated to measure its effect on parental employment levels, the achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children, uptake of early education by children with SEND, disadvantaged two-year-old, the cost of childcare outside the free hours and sufficiency of local provision.

Ellen Broomé, deputy chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, said, ‘We know that only high quality childcare help boost poorer children’s learning. And while working parents are pleased to receive more hours of free childcare, they are not willing to cut corners on childcare quality. As this policy rolls out, the Government must make sure that all families are able to access the high quality, affordable childcare that they need.'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'The findings of the Family and Childcare Trust’s report, while not surprising, are deeply concerning. It is simply not good enough that, as a result of the Government's continued refusal to listen to funding concerns, the vast majority of local authorities cannot say with any certainty whether or not they will have enough places for eligible three- and four-year olds with only seven months to go until the 30-hour offer is implemented.

'We have long warned that unless the scheme is properly funded, providers are likely to either limit the funded places they offer, or pull out of the scheme altogether. Add to this the fact that recent research by Ceeda commissioned by the Alliance showed the Government has significantly under-estimated the level of demand for 30-hour places, and it’s clear that we are heading towards a capacity crisis.

'If the Government wants to make good on this manifesto pledge, then they urgently need to invest what's needed. Time is running out, and at this rate, come September, we are going to see a lot of disappointed parents who are unable to find a 'free' place for their child as promised.'

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'It’s clear that there remains a lot of uncertainty among local authorities, not just providers, about delivering 30 hours, particularly whether there will be sufficient places.

'We have repeatedly raised awareness of the very real fears our members have that they can’t deliver this increased free entitlement and balance their books, which in turn threatens the whole policy.

'The recommendations, particularly the annual funding review so that funds increase in line with costs, reflect NDNA’s own evidence and concerns we have highlighted to Government. We have repeatedly called on Government to give nurseries more flexibility in delivering 30 hours, including allowing them to make mandatory charge for extras such as meals and activities.'

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said, 'Helping families with high-quality, affordable childcare is at the heart of this Government’s agenda. That’s why we are investing a record £6 billion per year by 2020 and our new fairer funding formula will mean the vast majority of providers receive increased funding rates.
 
'A number of areas are already delivering our 30 hour childcare offer, which almost five thousand parents are benefitting from and just recently we announced £50 million to create nearly 9,000 new places. When the scheme is rolled out nationally, around 390,000 working families will be eligible and, in many cases, these children are already in existing childcare places, which they will simply get for free when our offer goes live from September.'

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