Codes for the 30 hours can only be validated by local authorities once parents have secured a childcare place with a provider.
The warning from the Alliance comes as a breakdown of figures by local authority on the number of 30-hour codes that were validated by the beginning of the autumn term (5 September) is published by the Government, revealing huge regional disparities.
However, since then the Department for Education has published updated figures, which show the number of codes validated nationally has risen from 71 per cent on 5 September to 90 per cent on 9 October. The Government has not published a local authority-level breakdown for these updated figures.
The local authority breakdown, correct as of 5 September, was provided by the children and families minister Robert Goodwill in response to a parliamentary question from Labour MP for Manchester Central Lucy Powell on 31 October. It reveals that:
- Of the 154 local authorities, 65 (42 per cent) had validated fewer 30-hour codes than the overall national validation rate of 71 per cent;
- 47 local authorities had validated less than two-thirds of codes issued to parents, while 14 had validated less than half (this includes North Yorkshire – one of the 30-hour pilot areas).
The breakdown also incorrectly shows that two local auhorities, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, have validated no 30-hour codes despite having issued 180 and 82 codes respectively to parents. According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the mistake is down to a software error - putting the figures for the three boroughs that work together (Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster) on to the first council on the list.
Currently, Kensington and Chelsea have validated 52 per cent of the 122 codes issued in borough, Hammersmith & Fulham - 48 per cent of the 218 codes issued, and Westminster - 51 per cent of the 275 codes.
A spokesperson for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said, 'One of the reasons that their codes and take-up is low, is because the three boroughs already fund full-time places in schools and maintained settings, therefore parents have not been obtaining eligibilty codes as they have already secured their child's place, or, in cases where a child has a code, the school have not validated the code. This is something that we are addressing and there should be an increase in the number of codes obtained and verified in January 2018 headcount data.
'Across the three boroughs we are confident we have identified sufficient new places to meet the needs of anticipated eligible children.
He added, 'We have a communications strategy in place to ensure that parents are aware of the 30 hours’ entitlement and how they can secure their funding and place, this is ongoing. We have not been made aware of any child unable to secure a funded place who is eligible and wants one. Following the October census, we will be in a better position to understand how many places are still available/required to meet needs of our families and hope to resolve the reporting issues very soon.'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘It's incredibly concerning to see such huge disparities in the numbers of parents able to access 30-hours places across the country, with some local authorities reporting that less than half of parents who have applied for a 30-hours code have subsequently secured a place.
‘We know that the overall national validation rate has continued to rise as the term has progressed, and while this is undoubtedly positive, these new figures show the picture is very different on the ground in many areas, meaning that parents are effectively facing a postcode lottery on places.
‘Add to this the fact that the autumn term is always the quietest term for childcare providers, with the squeeze on places likely to get worse as the year progresses, and it's clear that urgent action needs to be taken to avoid a childcare crisis in some areas of the country.
‘We have long warned that unless the Government funds the 30-hour offer adequately, many childcare providers would look to limit the number of funded places on offer – or in some cases, withdraw from the scheme altogether – meaning less places for parents. With business costs like wages, rents and business rates on the rise while local authority funding rates are set to remain frozen until 2020, this situation is only going to get worse. That's why our Fair Future Funding campaign calls on the Government to not only increase early years funding levels, but also to ensure that funding continues to rise in line with the growing cost of delivering funded places in the years to come.
‘The Government chose to make this pledge to parents, and so it's up to the government to keep it. This means investing what's needed to ensure that all parents are able to the childcare they were promised, not just the lucky few.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Demand for the 30 hours free childcare offer has been high - over 216,000 parents have successfully received eligibility codes for the autumn term and as of 9 October 90 per cent of these codes have been checked by a provider on behalf of a parent seeking a 30 hours place.
'As the Department has previously explained, a code can be issued by one Local Authority and validated by a different authority. In this case, Westminster undertakes checks on behalf of both Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, hence why these borough appears to not have conducted any checks.'