More details of how the seven pilot areas will work from September have been set out by the Welsh Government, revealing operational differences with the 30-hour pilots currently taking place in England.
Although the eligibility criteria for working parents is the same, there are clear guidelines on the extra charges providers can bill parents for food.
Providers in England have criticised the guidance they have received on additional charges as confusing and unclear, because they have been told they although they can charge for meals and snacks, 'charges must be voluntary for the parent'.
In Wales all providers will receive a flat rate of £4.50 per hour for children receiving the offer, excluding food. Providers will also be able to charge extra for activities and trips.
Local authorities in Wales are also passing on the full rate to providers. This contrasts with the pilot areas in England, which have been able to hold back as much as 7 per cent of the funding for administrative costs.
The guidelines from the Welsh government on the childcare offer early implementers state that parents should not be charged more than £7.50 per day, which would include three meals at £2 per meal and two snacks charged at 75p per snack.
For a half-day session – approximately five- and-half hours – parents should not be charged more than £4.75 – i.e. £2 per meal plus a 75p snack.
For sessional care, where a meal is not provided but children receive a snack, parents should not be charged more than 75p per day.
On the issue of whether parents can bring packed lunches, the Department for Communities and Children said that it expected that this would be a discussion between providers and parents.
The childcare offer will cover up to 48 weeks per year. Foundation Phase Nursery (FPN) provision is available for up to 39 weeks a year, which means that eligible parents will be able to access 30 hours of childcare in the remaining nine weeks.
Eligible parents will be able to access their nine weeks of holiday provision when they choose, but it is up to parents to find a provider that offers the service that meets their childcare needs.
Children will be able to access a maximum of two registered childcare settings in addition to their Foundation Phase setting a day, and up to two settings in the holidays.
During the pilots parents will access the provision in week-long blocks, and hours of childcare cannot be accrued and used in other weeks.
The pilot areas in Wales are in Anglesey and Gwynedd (working jointly), Blaenau Gwent, Flintshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Swansea and Caerphilly.
Blaenau Gwent will implement the offer across the whole local authority area from September.
In Flintshire, the offer will be tested in areas with both high and low employment, on commuter routes, including travelling to areas outside Wales, and at a mixture of maintained and non-maintained settings. They will test capacity and demand for childcare and how it fits with the Foundation Phase and Welsh-medium provision.
Rhondda Cynon Taf will test the offer in four school catchment areas across the three valleys and one Welsh-medium catchment area to ensure an even spread across the authority.
National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Cymru said there were a lot of positives to the plan, including that the rate is based on the principle of current funding fees, which she said was ‘a realistic approach’ to the 30-hour offer.
NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘We are very pleased that the Welsh Government has taken on board some of the recommendations from our annual survey. These include funding following the child, increased hourly funding rates and our Childcare Passport online account to pool all funding streams.
‘Following years of campaigning for the funding rate in Wales to adequately reflect the real cost of delivering quality childcare, we are hopeful that this new rate will allow as many nurseries as possible to participate.’
NDNA’s survey in April found that nurseries in Wales are paid the lowest rate in the UK for the Foundation Phase at an average of £3.15 per child per hour, and that 65 per cent of nurseries expected to make a loss or just break even.
Mrs Tanuku said that news that the full £4.50 will be paid to providers without local authorities removing administration costs would be well received.
She added that virtual accounts, similar to the Childcare Passport proposal that NDNA suggested, may be planned during the piloting.
‘Parents can also choose where their child receives their free hours which is a big step forward, having campaigned for local authorities to work more with private and voluntary nurseries,’ she added.
However, she criticised the decision that the Foundation Phase hours, which comprise the education element of funded childcare, will not be paid for at the same rate.
Mrs Tanuku added, ‘Having two different rates, one for early years education in Foundation Phase and one for childcare makes no sense.
‘There is a risk that private providers drop out of offering Foundation Phase altogether. Parents should be offered the choice for both types of provision. It’s time we had a seamless process so children do not need to be switched from one setting to another during the course of a day.
‘We hope that these issues can be looked at carefully and all solutions tested thoroughly during these pilots.
‘There are a lot of positives to this plan. This is a great opportunity for the sector to work closely with the Government and put Wales at the forefront of progressive early learning in the UK.'