17 Aug 2012, Katy Morton
Childminders, early years experts and organisations have expressed worries that fewer practitioners will have the opportunity to contribute to the consultation, which runs from 19 July to 31 August, coinciding with the Olympics and when schools and some settings are closed for the summer.
The consultation invites practitioners to put forward their ideas about how to make childcare more affordable and accessible, focusing on three main themes:
Penny Webb, who runs childminding service Penny's Place in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, said, 'I would be surprised if the Government got more than a handful of responses. Schools are closed. Many practitioners take holiday over this period and some will also have to juggle their own childcare needs. Settings running holiday clubs will be busier than usual.'
She added, 'I am not sure if the Government timed this on purpose and therefore is hoping that not many will respond.'
Catherine Wrench, director of the Out of School Alliance, said she also thought that the consultation was badly timed. 'The call for evidence was announced just as the majority of schools in England were breaking up for the summer, and the consultation period finishes before most schools restart. Many providers shut down during the school holidays, and will be unaware of the consultation.'
Writing on Nursery World's LinkedIn page, Ken McArthur, owner of Polly Anna's Nursery, York, said, 'The pressure on the Government to be seen to be doing "something" about expensive childcare costs is enormous - particularly when there has been report after report highlighting the UK as being one of the most expensive countries in the developed world to have a child in an early years setting. The Government has been panicked into action ...
Maybe this is behind the sudden rush to consult over such a short timescale ...'
Early years experts and practitioners are now calling on the Government to extend the consultation deadline. Simona Mckenzie, a childminder from Twickenham, told Nursery World that she contacted the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, asking for an extension, but was told by the DfE that they are in a rush because of the deadline by which they have to report back the findings to the Prime Minister.
Laura Henry, managing director of the Childcare Consultancy, has suggested the consultation deadline be extended to at least next month.
Commenting on the timing of the consultation, a Government spokesperson said, 'Those who wish to respond to the call for evidence can still do so until the end of August. We hope that many will get involved. We are looking at how to improve the affordability and accessibility of childcare for working families, and will report in the autumn.'
Concerns have also been raised about the questions in the consultation, which some practitioners have suggested are designed to get a specific response, and some have said they believe that the Government will ignore their responses.
The National Day Nurseries Association has created a survey to gather nurseries' feedback on the most relevant parts of the consultation. Nurseries have until 24 August to respond. Any feedback will included in the association's response.