Interview: Adam Butler, Policy and research officer, Family and Childcare Trust

Monday, June 29, 2015

Adam Butler has co-authored a new report, 'Access Denied: a report on childcare sufficiency and market management in England and Wales.'

Your report reveals that 38 local authorities have not carried out/published assessments of local childcare since 2012. Why is this?

Local authorities are under a lot of financial pressure and many are undergoing significant change. That inevitably has an impact on early years teams.

It's disappointing but not entirely surprising that many are struggling. Our impression is that most of the local authorities that haven't undertaken an assessment are aware this is an issue they need to address. There are a small number of local authorities that have essentially chosen to opt out of a statutory duty.

There does seems to be some correlation between the local authorities that carry out sufficiency assessments and those that have been most successful in rolling out the two-year-old offer and addressing gaps in provision.

What action would you recommend to address this issue?

Our suggestion is that the Department for Education (DfE)makes early education funding conditional on local authorities meeting statutory requirements to assess childcare sufficiency.

It's clear that the current approach isn't working. It would be relatively straightforward for the DfE to monitor compliance and issue warnings in good time to allow local authorities to respond.

Your research found the biggest shortage of places in England is for disadvantaged two-year-olds. Why do you think this is?

There are a number of practical problems local authorities and providers face in offering more two-year-old places. Schools that have not previously provided care for children aged under three often do not have the space, facilities or staff that are needed to offer places to two-year-olds. There are also private daycare providers that have opted out of the offer because they don't need to participate: their settings are profitable and offering places to parents who in many cases are not working does not make financial sense for them.

We would like to see the Government commit new capital investment to support new places and make sure that the funding is adequate and fair. Some providers who aren't participating in the two-year-old offer might be more enthusiastic if they felt more confident they will be well supported.

Why do you think some nurseries struggle to recruit the staff they need to expand, and what would you recommend be done?
Childcare remains a low wage profession for most staff, even though quality and qualification levels are improving. Increasingly, people who might consider working in the early years and meet the minimum standards providers have more choices and understandably may choose higher wage professions. Unless the wage issue is addressed, recruitment will continue to present a challenge to providers. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the employment market is picking up nationally, which means providers are likely to see fewer applicants for vacancies.

A new workforce strategy for the early years and children’s services is also long overdue. This would be a chance to make working in childcare more attractive by making a commitment to clear career routes and the support staff receive such as continuing professional development. Increasing early years wages is something that must become a concrete policy, but it’s important to look at how the profession can be made attractive to the people who can provide the best care to children.
Why does there continue to be gaps in provision for specific types of children, for instance childcare for parents who work atypical hours?
There are some particularly tough gaps in childcare to address, including atypical hours and weekend care. Some innovative services can help to fill these gaps, such as home childcare services, but business models depend on strong demand from parents and access to a flexible pool of carers (for example, in areas where there are a high number of students). This works in some areas where parental employment is relatively high but by no means all. There is more national and local government can do to help address these gaps, for example through encouraging local authorities to establish listings and brokerage services for flexible childcare. However, there is ultimately a need to invest in a certain level of subsidy to create flexible options where doing so is unlikely to be attractive to businesses.


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