DfE publishes 30 hours guide for early years providers and councils

The Department for Education has published operational guidance for 30-hour childcare.

The 30 hours free childcare guide for local authorities and early years providers sets out what local authorities should do to carry out their statutory responsibilities, and what early years providers should do to fulfil their agreement with the local authority.

It also covers how local authorities and early years settings can support parents and children with the 30 hours with examples from providers, local authorities and sector organisations involved in the areas trialling the 30-hour scheme.

The DfE says that there will be more case studies from the early rollout of 30 hours free childcare with the guidance updated ‘in due course’.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, the guide states, advising that local authorities should work closely with their providers to understand demand and develop models of delivery that support the needs of working parents.

The document says that local authorities should encourage providers to deliver ‘flexible packages of free hours within the parameters set out in the statutory guidance’:

  • no session longer than ten hours
  • no minimum session length (subject to the requirements of registration on the Ofsted Early Years Register)
  • not before 6am or after 8pm
  • a maximum of two sites in a single day.

It gives examples of different delivery models, including how providers in different sectors can work together to offer childcare entitlements, such as schools, childminders and before- and after-school clubs.

For example, the DragonFishers Hub in York – one of the 30-hour early implementer areas - is a partnership between two primary schools, a nursery and 'FunFishers', a breakfast, day and after-school providers attached to one of the primaries.

York Council said that this type of working arrangement has enabled nearly 2,000 children to take up 30-hour places.

The guidance also provides different examples of charging models for providers to consider using.

Parents’ eligibility

The document says that parents can check whether they could be eligible for the 30 hours online at Childcare Choices or by using the Childcare Calculator.

Those who could be eligible for 30 hours and/or Tax-Free Childcare will be directed to the digital childcare service to apply. The eligibility criteria for 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare are ‘broadly aligned’, it says.

Parents will be able to apply for both 30 hours and Tax-Free Childcare at the same time by entering their details once. HMRC will check parents’ eligibility for both schemes at the same time. Parents will be able to apply for Tax-Free Childcare and the extended entitlement through the digital childcare service.

However, sector organisations have criticised the guidance.

Denise Burke, director of the Good Care Guide, said, ‘The complexity of the operational guidance slipped out by DfE late Friday afternoon beggars belief.

‘Parents will struggle to comprehend the administrative effort they will need to make to apply for the additional 15 hours and childcare providers will find the additional burden of verification of parental eligibility cumbersome and potentially financially risky.

‘As it stands the 30 hours childcare offer is a flawed initiative and should not be rolled out in September. It's not fit for purpose and needs a total rethink.’

The Pre-school Learning Alliance welcomed the publication of the guidance before the election, but said it was still unclear what providers could charge for and that the scheme should be adequately funded so that they did not have to rely on extra charges.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘We are disappointed by the continued lack of clarity around the rules on charging. We know that many providers were relying on this document to provide more detailed guidance on this issue, and yet, it tells us little more than we already knew.

‘As it stands, providers are being put in an impossible position: having to try and deliver an underfunded offer while ensuring that they adhere to government rules that are vague and often contradictory.

‘Our view is clear: if 30 hours is to be a truly “free” offer, it should be adequately funded and providers should not need to rely on additional charges to stay afloat. If this is not the case, Government must make this clear, not only to providers but also to parents.

‘With families now able to sign up for the 30-hour offer, it’s time for the DfE to be clear and honest about how it sees this policy working in the long term.' 

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