A total of 40 childminders across nine local authorities took part in the survey, commissioned by the Department for Education, during May and June 2016 for their views on funded early education.
Of those, 19 had experience of providing funded places for three- and four-year-olds, although only a minority were currently delivering the 15 hours. Childminders typically provided funded places at the request of parents.
While the findings show that many were supportive of the 30 hours, they had concerns about funding. The rates of funding paid by the local authorities in which the childminders were operating, according to the DfE benchmarking tool, ranged from £3.79 - £4.25 per hour per child. However, childminders reported getting different rates of funding.
In the past when delivering the 15 hours, the childminders had either accepted a loss, because funding was lower than their fee, or made up the difference in various ways – including charging top-up fees, increasing rates for non-funded children or accessing other funding sources.
One childminder said that parents would want the 30 hours so they (childminders) would have to provide them.
Survey respondents were also worried about logistical restrictions of delivering the 30 hours, including the impact on their ability to provide wrap-around care for pre-school children.
Childminders articulated that they face unique challenges compared to other providers, providing meals and snacks for children and providing extended periods of childcare – both over the lifetime of a child and weeks of the year.
Many childminders interviewed were not in a position to offer the funded places to additional children as most were at capacity.
However, those interested in offering the 30-hour places could see the advantages of the scheme - a guaranteed income source, a way to keep children on the books and a chance to link with other providers.
But they recognised that they might have to adapt their business models to offer the extended provision. The childminders suggested they would do this by getting parents to pay any shortfall in fees, for instance by charging for extras such as lunches, outings, for petrol, or increasing costs for non-funded hours, or by limiting the number of funded places they offered at one time.
Respondents made a number of suggestions to policy makers to increase take-up of the delivery of funded places among childminders, which included:
- paying a ‘fair market rate;
- paying regularly;
- make it transparent to parents what the 30 hours covers and that extra charges may be incurred;
- explain to childminders how they can optimise their earning potential;
- and acknowledge additional burdens on childminders, their time and resources, by minimising administrative requirements and allowing them to make additional charges.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years, said that with the right advice and support, more childminders could successfully deliver funded hours and PACEY would be supporting its members and others to explore this.
'We know from our own research that childminders are significantly underrepresented in the delivery of funded early education for a number of reasons, including a low hourly rate, delayed payments and red tape, and a lack of parental understanding about who can deliver funded places,' she said. 'It is also clear that in some local authorities more could be done to support and encourage childminders to become involved.
'While the increase in the funding rate and the new requirement for local authorities to pay providers monthly will go some way in incentivising more childminders to deliver funded places, there still remains a significant barrier in many areas where the funding rate still remains too low to support sustainability.'
Ms Bayram pointed to Government-commissioned SEED research, published on the same day, into the costs and funding of early education, which had revealed that the cost of providing a childminding place is higher than for nursery classes, private and voluntary settings.
'So, in many areas, childminders still need improved funding levels as well as support to deliver funded places, for example through tailored business advice and clarity on the additional charges they can make,'she said. 'Parents need to be encouraged to use their funded hours with a childminder and local authorities could do more to support this,' she said.
'Given the number of childminders has dropped 22 per cent in the past five years and many childminders are already at capacity, there is also a pressing need to recruit more new childminders and to help existing businesses to expand, for example by taking on staff. Excluding childminders from the recent £50 million grant scheme to provide new childcare places was a missed opportunity, and we hope that more can be done in this area.‘
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, 'While we welcome the fact that the Department for Education has taken steps to examine the challenges facing childminders, it’s disappointing that this has been limited to such a small-scale study, undertaken at a time where plans for the 30-hour offer were still to be confirmed.
'We are not surprised that those childminders interviewed for this study cited inadequate funding rates as the greatest challenge to delivering funded provision. Like group settings, many childminders have seen little to no increase in funding over several years, resulting in a continued loss in income.
'Given that the Government has highlighted the central role it hopes childminders will play in the roll-out of the 30-hour offer, it’s clear that much more needs to be done to encourage and support them to participate in the free entitlement offer.
'Changes like the move to monthly payments are of course welcome, but unless the fundamental issue of funding is tackled, many childminders – like nurseries and pre-schools – will continue to consider delivery of the free entitlement to be increasingly unsustainable.'
- Download the Childminders' views on early education report here