The report, released today by the Department for Education (DfE), provides estimates of places actually taken up for the 30 hours offer for the first time since it was launched in September 2017.
According to the statistics, 224,885 eligibility codes were issued to parents in the autumn term. Of these, 210,863 (94 per cent) were validated by a provider or local authority, and 202,783 (90 per cent) resulted in a secured place, leaving 22,102 eligible parents without a place.
Following warnings of a ‘postcode lottery’ for 30-hour places in November, the figures also suggested that in 43 per cent of local authorities, the proportion of children who had been issued eligibility codes taking up 30 hours places was lower than the national average.
In 12 local authority areas, fewer than three-quarters of children who had been issued with 30-hour codes had taken up places.
Final data was not yet available for some local authorities, with 41 per cent providing estimates.
The statistics exclude figures for four-year-olds as they are likely to have taken up a reception place in September, becoming ineligible for the 30 hours offer.
An early indication of the number of eligibility codes issued for the spring term suggests the DfE is close to meeting its 310,000 target, with 305,691 codes issued so far. Parents can continue to apply for an eligibility code until 31 December 2017 and providers will continue to check codes throughout the spring term, so the figures are likely to rise.
However, of the codes issued, just 224,988 have been validated (74 per cent).
Minister for children and families Robert Goodwill said, ‘These figures demonstrate just how popular our 30 hours offer has been with parents since being rolled out nationally in September.
‘In its first term around 202,800 children were in a 30 hours place, with over 305,000 already signed up to access the offer for the next term starting in January.
‘We are making excellent progress in our mission to ensure as many families as possible have access to high-quality, affordable childcare.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘While it is undoubtedly positive to see that 30-hour take up figures have continued to rise as the term has progressed, the fact that more than 20,000 parents ended the term having applied for the scheme but without having secured a place should be a real cause for concern.
‘Equally worrying is the continued disparity in the numbers of parents able to access 30 hours places across the country.
‘It cannot be right that parents in certain areas of the country are facing such a struggle to access places, as these figures suggest. Given that the autumn term is always the quietest for childcare providers, the pressure on places is only going to get worse, and so many parents looking forward to accessing the scheme next term may well be left disappointed next year.’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), commented, ‘According to these figures, 305,691 children have been issued codes for the January term, putting huge pressure on providers who are already stretched by delivering this offer which is underfunded by central government. Local authorities will need to support the early years sector to deliver this significant increase in places.
‘We are also concerned that only 74 per cent of the new codes have been validated by providers. This could be a sign that nurseries are restricting the amount of 30-hour places they can offer. Parents could be struggling to get their child a place in a local nursery.
‘The pressure on providers is likely to increase again when a further cohort of children tries to join for the summer term. We will be carrying out our own research shortly to establish exactly what is happening on the frontline.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) added, ‘The latest data on parental take up of 30 hours of funded early education places portrays a mixed picture. Whilst is it positive that the majority of parents with eligibility codes accessed their funded place, a significant number of families were unable to do so. The variation of take-up between different local authorities demands further investigation by the DfE before the spring term when the number of eligible children is expected to increase significantly.
‘PACEY knows from its members that in some local authorities funding levels for providers are reasonable, payment is made monthly and there is no unnecessary red tape to overcome. Yet in other authorities some or all of these issues have to be overcome. Much more still needs to be done to ensure families can access their funded hours and providers can offer these places whilst still sustaining their businesses. Improved funding levels, monthly payments and reduced red tape remain key to success and PACEY will continue to raise these issues with national and local government.’