Sector issues ‘stark warning’ over 30 hours

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Around half of early years provision is under threat of closure over the Government’s plans to extend the free childcare offer to 30 hours, a survey from the Pre-school Learning Alliance suggests.

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Less than a third of settings plan to offer the 30 hours, according to the survey

The early years organisation carried out an online survey about the impact of the 30 hours last month, receiving 1,443 responses.

Forty-nine per cent of providers said there was a risk that the 30-hours could lead to their setting closing, with a further 1 per cent already planning on closing.

The findings suggest that the future of the 30-hour policy is in doubt, with the majority of providers saying that they were unsure about whether they would offer the 30 hours, or that they were not going to offer them.

Less than a third of providers said they were planning to offer the extended entitlement.

The findings show that that while 98 per cent of respondents currently offer the 15-hour free entitlement for three- and four-year-olds, just 30 percent are planning to offer the 30 hours.

Commenting on the survey results, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘These figures are a stark warning of what could happen if the Government insists on rolling out an underfunded, under-resourced free entitlement offer.

'While we welcome plans to increase average early years funding rates as an important first step, independent research has shown that, with continued cost pressures including the introduction of the national living wage, this will still leave a significant funding gap for early years providers. Given that the move to 30 hours means that most providers will no longer be able to cross-subsidise in order to plug this gap, it’s no surprise that so many are fearing for their future.’

The survey also found:

  • just under one in five providers (19 per cent) said they did not plan to offer the 30 hours, while a further 51 per cent said they weren’t sure if they would offer them;
  • around half (48 per cent) said they thought the policy would lead them to cut the number of places they offer to other age groups, with a similar proportion saying that they did not feel confident that they have the capacity to meet the demand for places;
  • fifty-eight per cent of respondents said they expected the 30-hour offer to have a negative financial impact on their business.

Mr Leitch added, ‘The Department for Education seems to be working on the assumption that the sector will simply fall in line and roll out the offer, whether or not the funding is there to support it – but it cannot expect providers to put the sustainability of their businesses at risk to fulfil a manifesto promise that they didn’t make and that wasn’t properly thought through in the first place.

'The fact that 98 per cent of survey respondents currently deliver the 15 hour offer, but only 30 per cent are definitely planning to deliver the 30 hour offer, speaks volumes. We are quickly getting to a point where more and more providers are saying enough is enough.’

He also accused the Government of turning ‘a blind eye’ to concerns about whether the sector has the capacity to deliver the offer.

‘Many of those providers who are able to roll out the extended offer will have no choice but to reduce the number of places for other age groups, as the National Audit Office warned in its recent report,’ he said.

The report from the Government's independent spending watchdog, published last month, warned that if the funding for the 30 hours was not right, early years settings may choose to cut back on offering places for disadvantaged two-year-olds, whose care costs them more, to enable them to offer extra hours for threes and fours.

It also said that while providers are keen to offer the 30 hours, some providers may choose not to offer the scheme at all.

Mr Leitch said, ‘This policy has been sold as a solution for working parents, but unless the sector is adequately supported to deliver it, it’s only going to create more problems.

‘We want the 30-hour offer to be a success, for the sake of both families and providers, but the only way that this will happen is if the Government and the sector work together.’

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