30 hours childcare shows significant regional variations

There are significant regional variations in the take-up of the 30 hours free childcare for three and four year olds, according to new figures.

The figures, released by the Department for Education, show over two thirds of the local authorities who provided data have validated fewer eligibility codes than the national average and that some of them have validated considerably fewer.

Parents who want to access the 30 hours go to a website to register and, if they are eligible, they are given a code which they take to their childcare provider. The Government says the total number of children in a 30 hours place in spring term is equal to 89% of the eligibility codes issued, slightly down on autumn term.

While several regions have a placement rate above 89%, Outer London has an 81% placement rate. Some areas have more problems with childcare providers being able to provide the free hours. They include Enfield which has a 71% rate and Manchester which has a 71% rate. The lowest rate is in Lewisham at 67%.

Under the scheme eligible three and four year olds will have their free childcare entitlement extended from 15 hours per week to 30. The extended entitlement is available to families where both parents, or one parent in lone parent families, earn above an average of £120 per week (the equivalent to 16 hours per week at National Living Wage), but less than £100,000 per year. Parents can check their eligibility and sign up for the scheme via the government’s new Childcare Choices website.

Critics say it is not properly funded and that some childcare providers can therefore not afford to offer it or are having to charge for extras like food or increase charges for younger children.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: Unfortunately, nearly two terms into the rollout out of 30 hours, each release of government statistics only serves to make the issues with the policy more apparent. Both terms now have begun with figures showing parents struggling to have their codes validated in time and then, later in the term, another release showing improvement nationally is being hamstrung by huge variations of take up locally. That is what today’s figures show: well over two thirds of the local authorities who provided data have validated fewer eligibility codes than the national average, and some of them are a long way behind.

“Despite this well-worn narrative, ministers continue to be in complete denial of the problems inherent in the policy, often blaming local authorities and providers in areas where parents have been unable to take up places. They know the simple truth is that current funding levels are preventing parents accessing truly ‘free’ childcare and putting providers off offering 30 hours. Only the government are in a position to fix this, and if ministers are serious about delivering affordable childcare for parents they must act now to make the policy sustainable by ensuring it is properly funded.”



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