I’m delighted to have the opportunity to introduce myself to Nursery Worldreaders and to thank you for the warm welcome you’ve given me to this exciting role.
It has been a busy few months at the Department for Education. Taking on responsibility for so many policies affecting the lives of children – from early education and childcare to children’s services and adoption – has been quite a change from my previous role at the Home Office as immigration minister. That said, both are subjects that rightly garner much public interest, with many different angles to consider – so perhaps they aren’t so different!
One of the first things I have done as children’s minister is to publish the evaluation of the first eight areas to offer our 30 hours’ free childcare scheme, and to confirm that more than 15,000 30 hours places have already been delivered.
It’s heartening to see the positive findings in this report, from the impact on parents who previously struggled to balance their jobs with their childcare needs, to the amount of quality time parents can spend with their children. In these eight areas, nearly a quarter of mums increased their working hours, as did nearly one in ten dads. In Staffordshire, one parent who split her 30 hours between a pre-school and a childminder said it was the ‘greatest gift a working parent can be given’.
For me, this is the most important thing we as a government can offer families: a better quality of life by easing the strain of childcare on household budgets. I know it’s an ambition that you, as the professionals trusted by parents to care for their children, share with me and I’m grateful for the work that has gone into making the scheme such a success so far.
We are due to publish a second evaluation shortly, looking at the impact of the offer in Dorset, Leicestershire, Tower Hamlets and North Yorkshire, where more than 9,300 parents applied for the 30 hours. Taken together, these two reports will give us a clear analysis of the scheme and a picture for providers of what to expect. Importantly, the evaluation found that despite some initial concerns from professionals about offering the 30 hours, financial implications were not a significant barrier. In York, 100 per cent of providers that were already offering 15 hours’ free childcare have doubled the offer to 30 hours.
By the time this piece is published, 30 hours will have ‘gone live’ all over England and many thousands more families will have started accessing 30 hours. You, like me, may have heard the reports of some parents encountering technical difficulties with the online application system, whether applying for Tax-Free Childcare or the 30 hours. As with any new service, there have been some teething issues affecting a small number of parents, and the childcare service helpline has been able to advise those affected. I’m also grateful to providers who have been supporting parents through the application process.
HMRC has been working hard to resolve any problems, and we have been in touch directly with any parents whose cases have not yet been resolved, providing 30 hours codes manually where necessary. Today around 2,000 parents are successfully applying every day, on top of more than 200,000 parents who have already done so to date.
I’m conscious that I took on this job at a crucial point for the childcare sector, in the build-up to the national roll-out of our 30 hours free offer. My role also gives me responsibility for improving social mobility for our most disadvantaged children – and the early years is a crucial pillar in setting children on the right path.
I’ve made it a priority to hear from as many of you as possible and will continue my travels around the country this autumn to see how the offer is already working for many in our areas of early roll-out, and to understand the remaining challenges to overcome. Among this programme of visits is this magazine’s own Business Summit in November – I’m very pleased to have been invited and look forward to seeing you there.
To all those who have taken the time to meet with me at this busy time – thank you. The work you put in every day to provide an excellent education for these young children is vital for boosting their outcomes later in life. We know the impact early years education can have on a child’s development, which is why I am so determined that together we make the 30 hours offer a real success for parents and professionals, but most importantly for children.
Previously an immigration minister at the Home Office, and before that transport minister, Robert Goodwill has been MP for Scarborough and Whitby since 2005. A father of three and a farmer by trade, Minister Goodwill has seen first-hand the hard work that goes into running any business, as managing director of Mowthorpe Ltd, a green cemetery operator, and husband to Maureen, a former playgroup manager.