Exclusive: The Minister's View - Shaping more affordable childcare

Elizabeth Truss explains more about the government's plans for More Affordable Childcare

UK families face some of the highest childcare costs among OECD countries. Some families spend more than 25 per cent of net family income on childcare - more than double the OECD average of 12 per cent - while UK childcare professionals are some of the lowest paid in Europe. The Government spends over 40 per cent more than the OECD average on childcare for children aged less than three years. That is why we need to reform our system to make it work better.

We know the current childcare system can be complicated for both providers and parents to navigate around. We also know that not enough of the money spent reaches the front line. Childminders, nurseries and schools all face barriers that prevent them from expanding. And sometimes provision is patchy and fragmented and does not make best use of the excellent facilities we have available. In More Affordable Childcare we are taking steps to tackle this.

We want to make it easy for good providers to expand and work together collaboratively, which is why in More Affordable Childcare we have identified ways to help deliver a level playing field. Parents want seamless, flexible provision and we're trying to help you create that by simplifying things.

Part of the problem is the inconsistency different providers experience. I hear from parents that often they are using a brilliant, reliable childminder - but they can't access early years funding. This is a problem. Childminders are an important and valued part of our childcare offer. Many parents find the flexibility and home-based approach offered by childminders a great service in its own right and as a complement to nursery and school-based care.

However, fewer than 1 per cent of funded early education places are delivered by childminders - diminishing parental choice. This is unfair, which is why the Government is taking action. The proposals set out in More Affordable Childcare mean that local authorities will base their decision on whether to fund providers to deliver early education places solely on their Ofsted inspection rating. In practice, this means that any childminder rated 'good' or 'outstanding' will be automatically be able to deliver two-, threeand four-year-old places. This will also apply to nurseries.

Currently, fewer than 10 per cent of childminders have access to this funding; these changes mean that around 70 per cent of childminders will be able to offer funded early education places.

I have also heard from nurseries and childminders that there are sometimes mixed messages about requirements from local authorities and Ofsted. That is why we are reforming the system so that regionally based Ofsted teams will work closely with local authorities on improving weaker providers, based on issues identified in Ofsted reports. Local authorities also play an important role in making sure there is high-quality provision in their areas by encouraging good providers to expand. I want to reassure you that local authorities and Ofsted working together with nationally consistent criteria will create a level playing field for all good quality providers, including childminders.

We also know that providers in different areas providing the same service are paid different rates. We want to enable early years providers to judge whether the services they receive from their local authority provide value for money, and to challenge whether that money could be better spent.

Building on excellent practice

We've already taken steps to improve transparency around funded childcare places. In time we are looking to introduce a national funding formula for early education, to make funding fair and to give providers the predictability they need. Alongside this we're collecting data that allows nurseries to see what funding goes from local authorities to providers and we will work closely with the industry to do our own analysis of nursery costs.

We also want to build on the excellent practice that already exists and make it much easier for better collaboration across the different types of childcare provision. In particular, we are making it easier for private and voluntary sector providers to work with schools. Often schools have great facilities that are not being used after the school day or during holidays. They may also have capacity to host a PVI nursery on their site.

We are simplifying the rules about external providers working on school sites and encouraging schools to think more about how they work with local nurseries and childminders to provide a seamless offer for parents and children. Many schools already offer provision for two-year-olds in their nurseries. We are simplifying the registration process with Ofsted for this too.

Finally, we want to extend the planning freedoms that schools already have to all nurseries so it is much easier to secure new premises and convert, for example, office blocks into suitable spaces for children. This will cut out a lot of red tape and mean that good providers are able to develop their offer.

Early years teachers and educators need to be recognised and respected for the work they do. It takes real professionals with specific skills and attributes to deliver high-quality childcare and early learning. In More Great Childcare, we set out how we want to raise the status for early years professionals by improving qualifications. In More Affordable Childcare the Government is offering childminders and nurseries the flexibility to expand and offer more choice to parents.

With the dedicated professionals we have in the early years and the many excellent facilities already in place, together with the huge potential to expand, there is a big opportunity to create even more high-quality childcare.

For more information

The More Affordable Childcare and More Great Childcare reports can be downloaded online at www.gov.uk/government/publications.

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