59% of English councils unsure they can deliver childcare roll-out

A new report from Coram Family and Childcare shows over half of councils in England are unconfident or unsure of being able to offer enough places to eligible nine-month-olds from September, with workforce shortages being the main problem.

Childcare

 

Nearly six in 10 councils in England are not confident or are unsure whether they will have sufficient places to cope with the demand of the next phase of the free childcare expansion in September, according to a new report by Coram Family and Childcare (CFC).

It says two in five councils (41%) say they are ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that they will have enough places to meet demand for the September 2024 expansion (15 free hours for children from nine months for eligible working parents). This is up from 28% in January 2024, but still leaves 59% of councils either not confident or unsure if there will be enough places.

Councils’ confidence in the final phase of the roll-out in September 2025 (30 hours from nine months for eligible working parents) is much lower, with just 11% reporting that they are ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that there will be enough places to meet demand. This figure is practically unchanged from January 2024 (12%), says CFC.

The vast majority of councils (75%) report that their biggest concern in delivery of the childcare expansion is the local workforce. This is three times higher than any other concern.

The report also indicates how the first phase of the expansion (15 free hours for two-year-olds from April 2024) has been going so far. Just over half (52%) of councils say that all or almost all eligible parents in their area who wanted to take up the new entitlements have been able to. CFC says this compares to 60% of councils who said in January 2024  that they were ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ about having enough places to meet demand.

Over half (53%) of councils identify the local workforce as having been a ‘barrier’ or ‘significant barrier’ to the successful delivery of this first phase of the roll-out, while 36% of councils identified local buildings and space and 21% reported sufficiency of childcare places for children with SEND, as ‘barriers’ or ‘significant barriers’ to delivery.

Ellen Broomé, Managing Director of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Whilst it is encouraging that councils’ confidence in having enough places for all families who want one this September has gone up since we last asked them, this figure is still worryingly low considering we are just two months away from this second phase of the childcare expansion.

“Today’s follow-up report finds that councils’ previous responses about their preparedness for the April 2024 expansion mirrors the proportion of families who have been able to access their place. This shows that they have a good understanding of their local situation and their concerns should be listened to. Given that just 11% of councils are confident about the final phase of the expansion in September 2025, we are concerned there may be further issues not only this September, but further down the line for families in getting the childcare they need. And with three-quarters citing staffing as their number one barrier to delivery of the expansion, our research reiterates the urgent need for a workforce strategy that addresses the recruitment and retention crisis in the sector.



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