The Early Implementer evaluation, published today by the Department for Education, finds overall that a high proportion of providers in the eight local authority areas trialling the 30 hours of funded childcare were willing and able to offer the extended hours, and there was ‘no evidence’ that financial implications were a substantial barrier to the delivery.
However, the evaluation does acknowledge that funding rates will be different in the national roll-out and there will be no obligation for local authorities to offer extra support.
Other limitations it says include ‘partial implementation’ of the policy in seven of the eight areas, which were also chosen for their good track records, and starting the trials at the ‘most favourable’ time of the year in terms of spare capacity.
The research was carried out by Frontier Economics, NatCen Social Research, and the University of East London. It is based on survey responses and in-depth interviews with providers and parents in the eight early implementer areas that began delivering the 30 hours last September: Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan and York.
The DfE is also publishing a series of case studies to demonstrate good practice from the early implementer councils and providers to help settings preparing for the 30 hours delivery in September.
According to findings from the survey, 62 per cent of providers reported that there had been no impact on cost, however 30 per cent said that delivery costs had increased due to the delivery of the extended hours.
For 40 per cent of providers their profits decreased due to the delivery of the extended hours, while 38 per cent said there had been no impact on profits and 22 per cent said profits had increased.
Charging for extras
Around one in seven providers (14 per cent) had introduced or increased extra charges for parents because of the 30 hours.
Local authorities reported that settings’ practices on charging and restrictions on when hours could be taken limited the extent to which parents could benefit from the offer and there was particular concern for the impact these practices had on lower-income families.
However, the evaluation states that it was difficult for local authority staff to interfere with providers’ business decisions, as they could reflect parental demand and/or interference could threaten a provider’s financial viability. Local authorities also reported that even if they wanted to intervene, there were ‘grey areas’ in the guidance that made it difficult to establish if a setting was contravening the DfE guidance and they felt they did not have the ‘tools’ to enforce DfE guidance.
In response to these findings the DfE has updated its operational guidance, setting out the expectation that parents taking up the 30 hours should pay for meals, while making clear that there must be an ‘opt-out’ for parents who cannot or do not want to pay. Alongside the updated guidance, which is due to be published shortly, the DfE has updated its Frequently Asked Questions document.
The evaluation also shows how the 30 hours benefited parents taking part in the trials. Nearly a quarter of mothers (23 per cent) and one in ten fathers (9 per cent) reported they had increased their working hours as a result of the extended entitlement. The vast majority of parents said their finances had improved and the 30 hours had ‘reduced the burden they had previously felt struggling to make ends meet.’ Parents said they had more money to spend on activities and trips with their children, to go on holiday, or contribute to a deposit on a new home.
In April, Nursery World reported that the number of parents taking up the 30 hours under the pilots had exceeded the Government's expectation.
Children and families minister Robert Goodwill said, ‘In just a few short weeks as children’s minister I have already heard time and time again of how the 30 hours is improving the lives of families in these areas, many of whom had previously found the cost or availability of childcare a real worry.
‘I’m delighted with the success of our early implementer programme, which is now not only anecdotal but confirmed in this independent evaluation. From cutting household costs to increasing the quality time working parents can spend with their children, access to 30 hours is giving families a real boost.
‘The hard work of all the professionals involved in the early roll-out has been vital, and I’m determined to continue working with them to drive momentum ahead of the national launch in September.’
Commenting on the publication of the early implementer evaluation, James Hempsall, national programme director of Childcare Works, which has been working to support providers in the implementation of the 30 hours, said, ‘The report gives us all valuable insight into the experiences of providers engaged with 30 hours during early implementation, and the lessons to be learned for the benefit of the 1,000s of providers delivering from September 2017.
‘We have been particularly struck by the response from parents who have enthusiastically taken up their places, and made their choices in partnership with providers in how they want to use their hours, in a range of different providers.
‘At Childcare Works we have been working with the eight early implementation areas and their providers to share the emerging learning throughout the year. This report gives us all more to work with.’