Councils warn disadvantaged children missing out on funded places

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Disadvantaged children are missing out on funded childcare, local authorities have warned.

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The latest research from the Department for Education’s (DfE) Children’s Services Omnibus Survey has found that local authorities are struggling to ensure take up of funded childcare places for disadvantaged two-year-olds, as well as the universal entitlement of 15 hours for three- and four-year-olds.

 According to the survey, 44 per cent of responding councils said they had experienced difficulties over the last year in implementing funded childcare entitlements for disadvantaged two-year-olds. 

Nearly four in ten councils (38 per cent) said the introduction of the 30 hours entitlements for three- and four-year-olds had caused difficulties for the implementation of the offer for two-year-olds.

Local authorities identified the main challenges as financial sustainability and the capacity of early education providers to offer places for two-year-olds.

The report also found that one in five (20 per cent) of responding councils reported difficulties in implementing the universal funded early education entitlements of 15 hours for all three- and four-year-olds.

The most commonly reported difficulty, highlighted by 34 per cent of responding authorities, was eligible parents not wanting or needing childcare for their two-year-old.

In addition, 20 per cent of responding councils cited a lack of funding for publicity, outreach or infrastructure development as an obstacle to providing the 15 hours, while 16 per cent said they had found providers were unwilling to offer funded places to eligible two-year-olds.

This is the fourth wave of the DfE's Children's Services Omnibus Survey, which was sent to all local authorities in England between June and August 2018. In this instance 50 local authorities responded to questions about early years and childcare. The first wave of research took place in September and October 2016.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘This report makes clear that the Government is failing some of our most disadvantaged children. Everyone agrees that the early years is a vital in ensuring children get the best start in life – but this report shows that children from low income families, who stand to benefit most from childcare, can’t rely on the government to ensure they’re able to access it. 

‘The fact is that ministers were warned repeatedly that providers would struggle to deliver childcare for younger children following the rollout of 30 hours. They chose to ignore those warnings and continue to do so; this study is just the latest to underline the wider impact that frozen and falling funding levels are having, not only providers but also on the children they are able work with.’

30 HOURS STATISTICS

According to Government statistics published today (18 December 2018) by the DfE on the use of 30 hours childcare, an estimated 240,000 children were in a 30 hours place in the 2018 autumn term (1 September to 31 December).

This compares to the 202,783 children who were estimated to be in a 30 hours place during the autumn term 2017.

There were 254,136 eligibility codes issued to parents for the 2018 autumn term, of which 95 per cent were validated by local authorities or providers.

The number of children in a 30 hours place is equal to 94 per cent of all codes issued and 99 per cent of validated codes. In the 2018 summer term these figures were 90 per cent and 95 per cent respectively.

Jonathan Broadbery, National Day Nurseries Association’s head of policy and external relations, said, 'Looking at the growth in take up figures of the 30 hours childcare for three- and four-year-olds, it’s clear that more parents are now aware of the offer and how to access it.

'Due to this increased demand, private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries are delivering a growing proportion of these places for both three- and four-year-olds.

'This growth is also putting very real financial pressures on nurseries as the funding for places doesn’t meet their costs. This puts stress on the availability of funded places for eligible two-year-olds and more nurseries are forced to close.'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'These statistics don’t tell the full story of 30 hours so it’s important to take them with a pinch of salt. It’s good to see that most local authorities are finally validating most eligibility codes - but these numbers don’t show either how many of these parents receive truly "free" childcare, nor how many providers are struggling to deliver funded hours.'

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