Study highlights barriers for childminders offering funded places

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More childminders would consider providing funded places for three- and four-year-olds if funding were increased, new research suggests.

One of the first reports from the biggest Government-funded study into early years education since EPPE, published today, looks at childminders’ views on providing funded places, and childminder agencies, among other issues.

As part of the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), NatCen Social Research interviewed 20 childminders across England, with the sample made up of those offering funded places, as well as those that do not currently do so.

While funding for two-year-olds was generally felt to be sufficient and similar to the hourly rate that childminders would charge privately, funding for three- and four-year-olds was viewed as a barrier to offering places.

The childminders surveyed said that the rates - typically ranging from £3.40 to £5 per hour – were less than the fees they would charge parents privately.

Childminders reported that these lower levels of funding had an impact on their financial viability when offering funded places for three- and four-year-olds, particularly if they were employing staff.

The report concluded that more childminders might offer funded places if the funding rates for three- and four-year-olds increased.

Childminders also highlighted fluctuations in their income that can result from changing numbers on roll, with the report recommending introducing payment structures designed to minimise cash flow difficulties.

Childminders also noted a lack of demand for twos’ places, which they attributed to parents not knowing whether they were eligible for places and a perception that group-based childcare was preferable.

Some childminders were also concerned that offering places for twos would be bureaucratic and costly, as well as a misunderstanding among some that they would need to hold a Level 3 qualification to offer the places.

Childminder agencies

The report found that childminders wanted more information about how agencies would work in their local area, on issues such as financial viability of agencies, how their independence would be maintained should they decide to join an agency, how childcare places would be allocated, and the proposed approach to quality assurance.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘This study echoes many of the concerns that have long been raised by the sector. Despite the Government’s dismissal of our recent report on free entitlement funding, its own commissioned study has also highlighted the detrimental impact that inadequate funding, particularly for three- and four-year-old places, is having on the financial viability of childcare providers.’

‘In addition, while the Government continues to champion childminder agencies, there remains little information on how they will operate in practice and, crucially, how they will ensure that child safety and wellbeing is protected, despite being implemented for more than three months now. As such, as highlighted by this report, the vast majority of childminders remain rightly sceptical about the initiative, and are unlikely to opt to join agencies, despite a sustained decline in alternative sources of local support and guidance.’

Author of the report, Meg Callanan, senior researcher at NatCen Social Research, said, ‘This project has helped us to better understand the facilitators and barriers to offering funded early education from some of the people who are expected to provide it. It provides an opportunity to make funded early education work better for childminders and disadvantaged children.’

A DfE spokesperson said, 'This survey was of 20 registered childminders from a pool of around 50,000 in England.
'It was pleasing to see those on the front line agree that the two-year-old offer will improve the lives of disadvantaged children.
'The results also showed that providers feel the two-year-old funding level is adequate, will help with school readiness and aid the child’s learning, development and general welfare.'

SEED is being carried out by NatCen Social Research, the university of Oxford, 4Children and Frontier Economics on behalf of the Department for Education.

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