Parents desperately need this support and, as the early implementation pilots have demonstrated, a huge number of parents will want to take up this offer when it begins next September.
With the funding formula now published, providers are reflecting on whether they can or will offer the new entitlement. The funding levels remain a concern for many settings. Government has set out its stall and, inevitably, there will be winners and losers as this offer is rolled out. PACEY has been working alongside other sector organisations to try to get the best deal available for providers - in spite of Brexit and all the other jitters that would stop any government from promising much beyond the life of a parliament.
We know that for most families, 30 hours will make a major difference in these difficult times. It presents just too large a financial saving for most eligible parents to ignore. This means that if their current provider is unable to deliver 30 hours, they are likely to look elsewhere.
For nurseries and pre-schools the question they now have to ask themselves is - can we afford to deliver 30 hours or do we continue with 15? But the question for most childminders is very different. They will be asking, should we start to deliver free early education?
Currently only 1 per cent of three- and four-year--olds take up their free early education place with a childminder. Many childminders are resigned to the fact that as a child in their care turns three they leave their setting and move to a nursery or preschool.
But 30 hours is likely to change this traditional route for many families. This extended funding entitlement could present a new opportunity for childminders to work with more children beyond their first two years.
The controversy around the 30 hours policy has made many providers, including childminders, believe that delivery is impossible. Recently PACEY published a blog laying to rest some of the myths that have emerged around childminders delivering the funded hours. The commitment for childminders to be paid monthly and to be able to charge parents for discretionary consumables or additional services will make a big difference to whether childminders feel able to offer funded hours. And the fact that the government allows parents to split their funding across two providers means many childminders could benefit from partnering with other providers.
From PACEY’s own research on current childminders’ fees, we know that the £4.09p per hour floor rate [feom 2018] is actually likely to be the same as, or very close to, the fee many childminders currently charge. Add to this one or two of the supplements, for example the quality supplement at say a further 40p per hour and the additional cost of consumables, and 30 hours starts to become a more attractive offering – and more in line with market rates.
Our latest survey shows that out of 1,788 respondents just 55 childminders were charging £6.50 or more an hour. The vast majority (80 per cent) were charging £5 or less. In addition we know that a great deal of childminders currently charge a flat fee for their services, with no supplementary charges for meals, nappies, trips etc.
So while we still need to understand how local authorities translate the EYNFF in their area, there is clearly a potential opportunity for some childminders to think about delivering the free entitlement. We want to encourage all childminders to stop and think before they rule out delivery of the free entitlement in the future. And we will be providing our members with the support and business tools they need to help them consider the pros and cons of free early education delivery.
30 hours is likely to be the biggest change to the childcare market since nursery vouchers were introduced in 1997. The government’s first attempt at a ‘universal early years education’ had a significant negative impact on childminding places, as families could only access their free early education in a nursery or pre-school.
But fast forward 30 years and this time – with 89 per cent of childminders rated as good and outstanding - it could be the start of a much needed childminding revival. Parents need help to understand the options available to them – many don’t realise that they can take up their entitlement to funded hours with a registered childminder. After all, childminding is unique in that it is a truly community based early education and many families are looking for that flexible form of quality childcare.
While PACEY will continue to work with others to raise concerns about a lack of funding for the sector and currently no mechanism to link future funding levels to inflation and other rising costs, when you look at the numbers there are many childminders out there now for whom 30 hours could be sustainable.
Taking some time to think through the options now is important. As well as asking yourself whether your setting can afford to deliver 30 hours, we would urge you to consider what might happen if you don’t? For many families 30 hours is a financial lifeline. For some providers, in particular childminders, there may be an opportunity to be grasped.