DfE axes childminder funding scheme

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The Government has scrapped the only national Government funding scheme set up to help new childminders start their business, despite falling numbers in recent years.

childminder-new

The grant was set up to help childminders with the costs of starting their business

The Department for Education said that the Childcare Business Grant Scheme for newly-registered early years childminders and childminder agencies in England will end in March 2019 because of low take-up.

The move has been criticised by early years organisations at a time when the number of childminders is dropping and has fallen by 27 per cent since 2012. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years warns that ending the grant is 'likely to accelerate the decline in childminders'.

Nursery World asked the DfE about the number of applications received and the decrease in applications.

The DfE said that since the scheme was refocused on childminding businesses in December 2016, there had been just under 5,900 applications as of 21 November 2018. Of these 4,529 grants were awarded. 1,185 individuals did not complete their application and 242 applications were rejected for not meeting the criteria.

Since April 2018 the number of applications has declined, in six months to September 2018 on average 145 applications were received every month. In the equivalent period in 2017 the average was 219.

Asked about the scheme's budget for 2018-19, the DfE said it was 'a demand led scheme, with awards given to those that met the set criteria', and that any funding not allocated by 31 March 2019 will be re-allocated to other priorities.

The grant is intended to reimburse new childminders for the costs associated with setting up a childcare business. To be eligible, a childminder must have been registered with Ofsted for less than three months and be planning to offer 30 hours funded childcare.

The closure of the scheme was announced online. A statement on the scheme's website said, ‘The Department for Education has taken the decision to end the Childcare Business Grant Scheme (CBGS) from 31 March 2019. This is based largely on a decrease in the number of applications received for the CBGS. We have decided that it would be sensible therefore that the scheme is not renewed after March 2019.

'The scheme will close to new applicants from 31 March 2019. We would encourage any potential new childminders not to delay their application, as although we can accept applications up until midnight on the 31 March 2019,  the scheme will close earlier if the current funds have been distributed.'

The scheme was originally launched by Maria Miller, then minister for women and equalities, in 2012 and was a £2m fund designed to support up to 6,000 new childcare businesses, nurseries and childminders, with grants of up to £500.

It was re-launched in May 2017 but restricted to childminders only, to encourage childminders and childminder agencies to enter the market, and offer 30-hour childcare.

Childminders had to be planning to offer the 30 hours for three- and four-year-olds, or be in partnership with a childcare provider that was.

In addition, a grant of £1,000 was also available for a new early years childminder or childcare provider on domestic premises providing care for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), or for a new childminder agency.

The funding was changed again in April this year, with the universal grant downgraded to £300, or £500 for new childminders who work within certain local authority areas where the number of childminders is low, and the area faces particular challenges around rurality and disadvantage. This funding is on offer in 30 local authority areas.

To be eligible, new childminders or childminder agencies must be registered with their local authority to provide 30 hours childcare. The £1,000 grant is still available for childminders caring for children with SEND and for newly registered childminder agencies.

A DfE spokesperson told Nursery World, 'Since the original launch of the scheme in 2012, the Childcare Business Grant Scheme supported around 13,000 new childcare businesses, including 4,500 childminding businesses since December 2016. And while the Government greatly values the contribution made by childminders in providing flexible, high-quality and affordable home-based childcare, we have decided to take a different approach to supporting the childcare market.'

The DfE said that support for childminders was available in resources it has developed in partnership, including business support for childminders through PACEY's online toolkit, and Action for Children's toolkits supporting partnership working across early years providers such as schools, childminders and PVIs.

'Decline in childminding'

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said she was ‘deeply disappointed’ at the closure of the scheme.

‘Many prospective childminders are on low incomes, and frequently they are new parents exploring a return to work,’ she said. ‘This grant scheme – the only national dedicated funding for childminding – is absolutely central to their decision to start the long process of registering with Ofsted and establishing their business.

‘Since 2012, the number of registered childminders in England has dropped by 27 per cent, mostly due to fewer new childminders registering. PACEY is clear what needs to be done to halt this decline and make childminding sustainable. Childminders need more help with start-up costs and a removal of the key barriers preventing them from delivering funded places. At a time when there is unprecedented and growing demand for flexible childcare, Government should be doing all it can to support new childminders to register.

'The termination of the Childcare Business Grant scheme is sadly likely to accelerate the decline in childminders, which will ultimately lead to fewer families accessing high quality, flexible childcare that best meets their needs.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, attributed the low take-up of the scheme to the fact that it is only available to childminders offering 30 hour childcare.

‘Although the Childcare Business Grant Scheme only ever offered limited help to new childminders, the removal of any form of financial support a time when so many providers are struggling financially is incredibly disappointing,’ he said.

‘That said, given that the scheme was restricted to childminders or agencies offering or supporting the 30 hours, it’s not particularly surprising that there has been a lack of demand: between wholly inadequate funding rates and the Government’s refusal to rethink unfair rules on funding for related children, there is currently very little incentive for childminders to deliver the scheme. 

‘Add to this the fact that we are continuing to lose childminders from the sector at an alarming rate, and it’s clear that this is an issue the Department for Education needs to address as a matter of priority. Childminders are an absolutely vital source of quality, flexible care and education, and so the Government simply must do more not only to attract new childminders to the sector, but crucially, to retain the quality professionals we already have.’ 

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