The Queen's Speech 2015: 30 hours of childcare and powers to improve schools

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Queen has reiterated the Government’s commitment to extending free childcare and improving ‘failing’ schools.

Speaking this morning at the state opening or parliament, she outlined the Government’s plans to help working people by doubling the provision of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds.

The offer, being introduced in 2017, will be available only to families where all parents work.

The Queen also announced that legislation will be brought forward to give the Government new powers to intervene in schools that are ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’, and speed up the process of turning them into academies.

Currently, schools that are rated inadequate by Ofsted are usually converted into academies, however, this can take some time.

Within her speech, the Queen also announced measures to speed up the adoption process, along with expanding the Government’s Troubled Families programme.

As well as this, details of the Government's employment and welfare benefits Bill were revealed. The purpose of the Bill is to deliver on the Government's commitment to freeze the main rates of a number of working-age benefits, tax credits and child benefit, as well as reducing the level of the benefit cap.

The Bill also includes statutory duties to report annually on progress against meeting the target of three million new apprenticeships.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, 'More than three million children already live in poverty and after years of real terms cuts, further freezes to working age benefits, tax credits and child benefit will only make things worse. It is a scandal that by 2020 it looks likely that millions of children will still live in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.
'Extending the benefit cap to thousands more families with children – many of whom are working or trying their best to find work, or are full-time single parents of young children – will barely make a dent in the deficit but will lead to more children slipping deeper into poverty. If this proposal becomes law, after paying housing costs a couple with four or more children could be left with just £3 per day for each child to cover all of their household needs, including food, clothes, transport and utilities.'

Sector reaction

Charities Contact a Family, Every Disabled Child Matters and the Family and Childcare Trust warned that the childcare offer for three- and four-year-olds does not address the lack of availability of childcare for disabled children.

Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact a Family, said, ‘We want fair play for families of disabled children when it comes to getting back to work and enjoying careers. Our concern is that the childcare offer as it stands will continue to disadvantage mums with disabled children hoping to return to work or increase their hours.

‘We urge the Government to ensure local authorities have sufficient funds available to make the childcare offer work for disabled children in the same way it does for other children and families. This will ensure fairer access to work choices for mums with disabled children and give disabled pre-schoolers the same early education opportunities as other youngsters.’

The Pre-School Learning Alliance, National Day Nurseries Association and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years welcomed the introduction of 30 hours of childcare, they reiterated that the offer needs to be properly funded.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘While plans to improve the availability of childcare are of course positive in theory, as it stands, they unfortunately remain unlikely to succeed in practice as, to date, the government has done very little to address concerns that the free childcare scheme is severely underfunded.

‘Extending the free childcare offer without first addressing these funding gaps will only exacerbate this problem further.'

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘NDNA is looking forward to working closely with the Government and the childcare sector to meet the challenges that this expansion will bring and offer practical, workable solutions.

‘It is incredibly important that nursery providers are funded properly to make these plans sustainable.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'Extending the free entitlement will only address the fundamental problems caused by under investment in childcare if the real cost of free entitlement delivery is covered for childcare settings.

'It’s no secret that many childcare professionals continue to struggle with cuts in local authority funding for free early education places, as well as reduced support and training from their local authority. Without a guarantee of further investment, providers will increasingly fight to deliver the high quality service that children deserve, and be deterred from growing their businesses to provide these extra places.'

Their comments were echoed by Voice, the union for education professionals.

General secretary Deborah Lawson said, 'While we welcome the Government’s aspirations for world-class education and childcare, we believe that it is failing to address the twin crises of funding and recruitment facing education and childcare.

‘Without recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, headteachers, support staff and childcare professionals, schools, colleges and nurseries cannot deliver what is asked of them.

‘Increasing free childcare may sound like good news for parents, but nurseries need to retain and recruit motivated qualified staff to provide that childcare.’



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