Report calls for overhaul of childcare provision
The creation of academy nurseries, cutting red tape, greater levels of local oversight and higher ratios of children to adults would improve childcare provision in the UK, according to a report by MP Elizabeth Truss for the Centreforum think tank.
The report, Affordable quality: new approaches to childcare, says the British government spends over £7 billion per year on pre-school support, more than Germany, France or the Netherlands. Yet the average family spends 27 per cent of their income on childcare, higher than every OECD country bar Switzerland. Despite this spending, recent studies show that there are still quality and availability issues.
The report says there are various reasons why the UK fails to secure value for money. One issue is that childcare support from government comes in a variety of different forms, including tax credits and Sure Start, and does not clearly follow demand. Another is that British child-adult ratios are some of the lowest in Europe, particularly for childminders.
The report says that, given more effective supervision and training, ratios could be raised to the levels in other countries, especially for childminders. It argues that this could attract higher paid staff to childminding and improve quality or make the service more affordable and available.
It calls for the UK to adopt the agency structure – used in the Netherlands – for childminders whereby parents pay a monthly fee for childminding and local agencies operate and monitor childminders.
And it calls for a simplification of childcare provision so that all parents using subsidised childcare go to a nursery or an approved agency. This, it says, would enable a single childcare support to be paid to the parents combining the existing childcare element of working tax credits, employer vouchers and early years entitlements. Within this universal system children from deprived backgrounds could be matched with high quality provision, it argues.
It also states that nurseries and children’s centres could be allowed to attain academy status, as schools are currently able to so that money currently allocated to local authorities would go direct to academy nurseries.
The report concludes: "Childcare in Britain remains a major cost to families who often lack access to high quality provision. Adopting the Dutch agency structure used for childminders, combined with extending academy freedoms to nurseries, would provide a clear framework to increase provision and quality. Greater levels of local oversight combined with higher ratios would help attract more quality staff. Well targeted regulatory reform as advocated could boost quality, increase parental choice and reduce the administrative burden on childcare providers."