04 Feb 2019, Catherine Gaunt
There is increasing concern about the impact of the 30 hours on the availability of places for working parents, and a growing outcomes gap for disadvantaged children not eligible for the extended entitlement.
Wakefield Council has warned parents are facing ‘limited choice’ in some areas, after a loss of 38 childminders in the past 12 months, down to 248, and the closure of three nurseries.
These closures have implications across all areas of the childcare market, not just early years funded education, the council warned.
Its Schools Forum report on childcare sufficiency, the 15- and 30-hour entitlements, and the impact on places, stated, ‘The childminding sector is of particular concern as childminders offer the greatest flexibility to parents and provide care outside of the normal school hours. In some areas parents have limited choice if they want to take the 30 hours in one place or have further difficulties if a collection service is not offered from certain schools. This is further exasperated by falling childminder numbers.
‘The data clearly shows that the children accessing the extended entitlement are living in the most affluent areas of the district, which raises concern that the outcomes gap will widen.
‘Schools are stating anecdotally that those children attending up to 30 hours are already “flying” compared to their peers who only attend up to 15 hours.’
Andy Lancashire, service director for education and liaison at Wakefield Council, said, ‘We are committed to providing the best opportunities for early years education for all children and their families in the district.
‘Wakefield has not seen a drop in two-year-old take-up since the introduction of 30 hours – in 2017/18, take-up was 72 per cent nationally and in Wakefield 77 per cent.
‘The report also highlights a shift in the three- and four-year-old childcare market as parents move from wanting the more traditional method of take-up in the maintained sector to the private, voluntary and independent and childminding sectors.’ (See table.)
Source: Wakefield Schools Forum
The council said a fall in childminders was a national issue, which was just starting to have an effect in Wakefield. An advertising campaign took place last year to try to encourage new starters, and activities are ongoing to support this.
It is encouraging providers to grow the market in areas of need but knows that growth cannot be too rapid as this affects sustainability of existing providers in both sectors.
Susan Wakelin who has owned Brambly Hedge Day Nursery in Castleford for 18 years, one of the largest private nurseries in Wakefield, said she was ‘deeply concerned about the sustainability and the survival of privately owned childcare settings locally and nationally.’
Rises to the minimum wage and pension contributions from April, with higher energy, food costs and business rates, were ‘frightening and over the next 16 months I believe there will be a national financial crisis in the private childcare sector resulting in many more settings having to, very sadly, close their doors.
‘Councils in Scotland have scrapped business rates for nurseries, which I am sure has been a huge help to them. Perhaps councils in England could follow similar lines?’
Purnima Tanuku, National Day Nurseries Association chief executive, said, ‘We have warned the Government that their 30 hours policy could negatively impact its social mobility agenda and the sustainability of nurseries.
‘One unintended consequence is that places are being limited by providers trying to remain sustainable in the face of inadequate hourly funding and increasing costs, so take-up in less affluent areas is lower. In some cases, as providers close or offer fewer places, parents are unable to travel with their children to the nearest nurseries. This appears to be happening in Wakefield, which reflects the picture across the country.
‘This is doubly worrying because not only should this policy be available to all eligible children, it is particularly important that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to high-quality early years education. Without this lifeline, they could be stuck in a socio-economic rut and struggle to achieve their potential.’
The NDNA is campaigning for English nurseries to be exempt from business rates.
Susanna Kalitowski, policy and research manager at PACEY, said, ‘PACEY remains alarmed by the decline in the number of registered childminders in England. The fact so many childminders resigned in such a short time in Wakefield is a warning sign that something is not right, and the council should investigate the reasons behind the drop immediately.
‘In the past, Ofsted has claimed the national decline has been influenced more by a lack of new childminders joining the profession rather than high numbers resigning.
‘There is mounting evidence that disadvantaged families are losing out disproportionately when it comes to access to high-quality, affordable childcare and early education.’
PACEY’s Together for Two project is currently working with families in seven local authority areas where take-up of the two-year-old entitlement is low, to support them to access the entitlement, particularly with a childminder. It will also be working with Job Centre Plus to encourage more people to consider childminding as a career.