Nursery World has summarised the key concerns submitted in written evidence by those who will be in the frontline and key to putting the Government’s 30-hour commitment to working parents into practice.
The bill proposes an ‘extended entitlement’ to an additional 15 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks of the year for a ‘qualifying child of a working parent’ and a duty on all local authorities to publish information about childcare and related matters.
The Childcare Bill has now reached the report stage in the House of Commons and is expected to become law next year.
POLLY ANNA’S NURSERY, YORK
Ken McArthur, owner
Key issue: how to fund the 30-hour entitlement
‘The current formula for allocating funding to local authorities is inequitable, with large variations between one authority and another... In my own local authority, the City of York we find ourselves within the lowest funded 10 per cent of early years funding per child.
‘We hear of demands that local authorities need to pass on the maximum level of funding to providers. I believe the Government’s recommendation is for a local authority to retain no more than 10 per cent of its early years grant for administration costs but my own authority only retains 6per cent and we are still the lowest funded authority in our area at only £3.38 per hour.
‘I would strongly urge that the new funding rate be set nationally, in a similar way as the two year old funding rate is set.’
THE MANOR NURSERY SCHOOL, BLACKPOOL
Nursery owner and chair of the Blackpool Private Nurseries Association, Keith Beardmore
Key issue: 30-hour funding
‘In the North West ... low employment and areas of more than national average depravation means that most children only access the free 15 hours per week, with few parents able to add extra hours due to economic shortfalls. Therefore many settings have more hours per day vacant than occupied but still have to pay overheads, including wages, to maintain acceptable pupil: adult ratios.
‘We must take immediate action to raise the level of funding of free entitlement to sustain vital provision. It will not be possible to raise quality without sufficient adequately funded provision for every child.’
MONTESSORI SCHOOLS ASSOCIATION
Key issues: demand and supply and how to fund the 30 hours of free childcare
‘We visit childminders, pre-schools and schools to accredit the quality of their Montessori practice... Many of these providers operate from rented premises – church halls, sports centres and the like, which they cannot rent for five full days due to other demands on the space. Also extending their hours to cover 0730 to 1800 – a full working day - is not possible for many, due to issues with premises.
‘From the providers’ viewpoint, local demand must be sufficient to make the provision economic and this is not currently evident...Most provision is sessional with separate groups of children attending for the mornings and the afternoons, and only a minority attending full time.
‘Especially for maintained school nurseries taking three- and four-year-olds, a move to full-time daycare would mean either a cut of 50 per cent in the numbers of children able to access the provision full-time or expanding provision incurring capital costs which are not affordable. The demand on the private and voluntary sector will remain dominant and its capacity to provide 30 hours must be considered.’
NATIONAL CHILDREN’S BUREAU
Key issues: Investment in the workforce
‘NCB is calling on the Government to put in place an action plan which would support practitioners to work towards a Level 3 qualification, increase the number of graduates leading practice in PVI settings, and ensure that every setting has access to a fully qualified SEND Coordinator.’
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CHILDCARE AND EARLY YEARS
Key issue: Childminders underrepresented in the delivery of the early years education entitlement
‘Many childminders have reported that parents looking for funded places are being directed to group-based rather than home-based-settings by local authorities, children’s centres and health visitors... There is an urgent need to provide clear, concise information to childcare providers, local authorities and parents about exactly who is eligible to provide the entitlement, and what the benefits are of different settings.’
JEAN KEMP, OFSTED-REGISTERED CHILDMINDER
Key issue: eligibility criteria for the 15 hours and proposed additional 15 hours funding for three- and four-year-olds in relation to the Childcare Act 2006.
‘I believe that the education authority is misinterpreting the Children’s Act 2006 by not allowing children related to registered childminders to claim 15 hours funding, this in turn would mean that a group of children would not be able to have funding for the additional 15 hours entitlement.’
SHIRLEY JENKINS, OFSTED-REGISTERED CHILDMINDER
KEY ISSUE: 30-hour entitlement will force more childminders out of the market
‘Only 1 per cent of free entitlement places for three and four year-olds are provided by childminders, and this is likely to diminish even more, as most of us will be unable to deliver places at £3.81 or thereabouts, per hour. The situation will be even more dire when the 30 hours of free entitlement is introduced in 2017. We childminders will very likely lose all our three year olds to nurseries because we just can't operate at such a loss.’
KEY ISSUE: Impact of 30-hours on disadvantaged families
‘More than 15 hours early education and care will not in itself improve children’s outcomes. However, it may do indirectly if it leads to an increase in family income to reduce the impact of living in poverty. This suggests the 30 hours should be prioritised for the lowest income families.
'We are concerned that the proposal to restrict the extended entitlement to children with parents earning the equivalent of at least 16 hours per week at the national minimum wage or national living wage, increased from the original proposal of eight hours, will exclude precisely those families who could benefit most.’
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF HEADTEACHERS
KEY ISSUE: 30-hour offer
‘In September NAHT published a survey of members. ‘An Early Years Place for All’ found that 59 per cent of those providing free childcare to three- and four-year-olds reported that the funding they received did not cover the cost of the provision, and a further 21 per cent were unsure whether the funding covered their costs.
'When we asked, members reporting a shortfall of how they covered the funding gap, the overwhelming majority (80 per cent) were cross-subsidising from the rest of the school budget while only 12 per cent were cross-subsidising from top-up nursery provision paid for by parents.
‘This situation is not sustainable... There is simply no room for school leaders to cross-subsidise their childcare provision, and without better and more equitable funding for childcare, some of our members will have to consider moving away from providing childcare at the very time the Government wants to see an increase in provision.’
CONTACT A FAMILY
KEY ISSUE: Disabled children missing out on the 30-hour offer
‘We welcome the doubling of the free childcare offer. However, unless sufficient funding is made available and structural reforms are made, the 30-hour offer will exclude and disadvantage disabled children in relation to their non-disabled peers.
‘The current free childcare offer for three- and four-year-olds does not work well enough for disabled children. The research indicates that parents face issues of cost, availability and discriminatory exclusion. This, along with an inability to access top-up funding from local authorities and a lack of confidence in the quality and safety of care, contributes to undermining many families access to their free childcare offer.’
LOW INCOMES TAX REFORM GROUP
KEY ISSUE: Guidance for parents and impact on the self-employed
‘While we are wholly supportive of extending free childcare to 30 hours, and also of the Government support for childcare through the tax-free childcare (TFC) scheme, the childcare landscape that results will be decidedly complex.
‘It is therefore critical that users are given complete guidance that not only explains the rules of each childcare scheme but also gives enough information for them to choose between schemes or to understand how they interact.’
‘We are particularly concerned about the adverse effect these changes will have on parents who are self-employed and those who are employed on zero-hours contracts. While parents who are paid a higher hourly rate may indeed qualify for support by working a low number of hours per week, those who earn basic statutory hourly rates or less will effectively have to work more hours to qualify for the same type of support. Those extra hours may not be available to them.
‘It is important to ensure that enough flexibility is built into the regulations to allow people with fluctuating hours to have some certainty that their childcare arrangements can continue during intervening periods when they are unable to muster the requisite number of hours on the low wages they can command.’
FAMILY AND CHILDCARE TRUST
KEY ISSUE: 30-hour offer would exclude some parents
‘The Chancellor announced in the autumn statement that parents would need to earn an equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage each week (£115 in 2017) in order to be eligible for the scheme. This is an increase from eight hours (£58) as originally proposed.’
‘Parents returning to work in ‘mini jobs’ and those with fluctuating hours will not be eligible for the 30-hour offer. Many working parents in the UK are not employed on contracts that offer a stable 16 hours of employment each week.
‘The Family and Childcare Trust recommends that the eligibility criteria for the offer include: parents with an income equivalent to eight hours in work at the National Living Wage are eligible for the 30 hour-offer and parents who are meeting work preparation steps with childcare needs agreed with a Jobcentre Plus advisor.