Fewer restrictions are to be placed on the delivery of the 30 free hours of childcare to better meet the needs of children, parents and providers.
In response to views from the sector, the Government is to extend the hours in which the extended free entitlement can be funded, remove the minimum session length and enable parents to ‘stretch’ their free childcare over the full year if they wish.
Details of the plans, which are set out in the Government’s response to its consultation on the policy, include:
• extending the hours in which the free entitlement can be funded from between 7am and 7pm to 6am and 8pm.
• making clear in statutory guidance that, while the free early years entitlements must be provided over no fewer than 38 weeks, local authorities are expected to work with childcare providers to enable, as far as possible, parents to ‘stretch’ their free childcare over the full year if that is what they wish
• removing the minimum session length for delivery of the existing and the extended entitlement. Current statutory guidance states that sessions should be no shorter than two-and-a half hours.
The DfE consultation, which closed on 6 June, received a total of 1, 314 responses.
Funding for the extended entitlement was one of the main concerns raised by respondents. The Government has consulted on proposals to change the way early years education is funded, with a response expected before the end of the year.
FLEXIBILITY AND FEES
Asked what type of flexible provision would be most valuable to parents, the majority of respondents (54 per cent) cited provision outside of term-time. Early morning and later evening provision was the second most popular type of flexibility.
A large proportion indicated it should be for providers and parents to agree the appropriate length of time that a child should be in a setting, giving the flexibility to use wrap-around provision such as breakfast and after-school clubs.
However, the Government says local authorities will be expected to ensure that the minimum session length is reasonable and does not compromise the quality of provision for the child. There will continue to be a maximum session length of 10 hours of funded provision in one day.
Overall, respondents, in particular childminders, welcomed the move to monthly payments for providers.
As a result, the Government will make clear in statutory guidance that by September 2018, all providers will be paid monthly, unless they wish otherwise.
The Government also reiterated that providers are free to charge parents for consumables such as drinks, meals, nappies or additional services.
NDNA’s own consultation with the 30 hours early implementers and other members pointed to charging for ‘add-ons’ as the practical way forward in delivering the new entitlement.
In the consultation, the DfE proposed a ‘grace period’ for parents between jobs lasting for either a quarter or to the next half of a term.
While most respondents agreed with the timeframe, a number did raise concerns about the burdens of administering it and whether its length would threaten their financial sustainability.
In particular, respondents had concerns over parents falling out of eligibility mid-way through a term as the grace period would last around five to six weeks – this was deemed too short notice to reallocate or fill spaces.
Also, where children are attending a term-time-only setting but fall out of eligibility in the latter half of the summer term, the setting would be unable to continue to provide a place until the following term.
The Government said it will undertake further consultation with the sector on the length of the grace period.