School provision plans see fresh wave of criticism

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Early years organisations have renewed their call for the Government to abandon its drive for more schools to offer places for two-year-olds, in light of findings from the Department for Education’s (DfE) annual survey on the state of the early years sector.

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The Childcare and Early Years Providers Survey 2013, carried out by TNS BMRB for the DfE, reveals that there is little appetite among schools to provide funded places for two-year-olds and that the vast majority of places for twos are on offer at private, voluntary and Independent settings (PVI).

Figures show that only 6 per cent of primary school nursery classes currently offer funded two-year-old places – and of those that do not, only 12 per cent plan to offer places in the future.

In contrast, ‘a significant proportion of group-based providers’ were interested in offering two-year-old places in the future.

Nearly half of the full daycare settings that did not currently offer the places planned to do so at some point.

At the time of the survey, three quarters of full daycare settings and 68 per cent of sessional settings were offering the funded places for twos.

The number of childminders currently offering places for twos was low at just seven per cent, but the report said that more childminders said they wanted to offer places for twos in the future, with about a quarter intending to offer places before September 2014 and a similar percentage at a later date.

The research involved telephone interviews with more than 10,000 early years settings, childminders, schools and out-of-school providers, between September and December 2013.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘The Government believes that encouraging more primary schools to take two-year-olds will support the expansion of the free entitlement offer, but these statistics clearly show that this is simply not the case.

‘For the Government to continue to focus so heavily on promoting school nurseries as a source of provision for funded two-year-olds, therefore, is completely nonsensical.

‘Ninety-six per cent of two-year-olds currently accessing free childcare do so at non-maintained settings, so why isn’t the Department for Education two-year-olds doing more to support these providers – especially given the current shortfall in funded places?

‘The report itself states that the extension of the offer “will require a substantial increase in capacity among those who cater for this age group, primary daycare providers and childminders.

‘The Government should recognise the pivotal role of the PVI sector in the delivery of early years care and learning and look to build on this progress,rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time and effort on a “school-focused” approach that has little chance of succeeding.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, ‘In recent months there has been an increased focus on how schools may provide the solution to growing the number of childcare places for these very young children.

‘Schools can only ever be part of the solution, particularly when families need childcare that is available at atypical hours and all year round.’

Other key findings from the report include the following:

  • The number of full daycare providers continues to rise, but the rate appears to have slowed. There were 17,900 in 2013, up from 17,300 in 2011.
  • Sessional care is in decline, dropping from 7,900 providers in 2011 to 7,100 in 2013.
  • Childminder numbers fell from 48,800 in 2011 to 46,100 in 2013.
  • The number of registered places rose by ten per cent between 2011 and 2013, driven by an increase in the number of places at each setting.
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