‘Majority of providers will not be able to meet increased demand for childcare’

Surveys show a big mismatch between what parents expect from the expansion of ‘free’ childcare and childcare providers’ ability to provide it.

Close up of child's hands playing with colorful plastic bricks and red motocicle at the table. Toddler having fun and building out of bright constructor bricks. Early years childcare

 

Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England will be unable to provide enough early years places to match the increased demand caused by the Government’s upcoming expansion of ‘free’childcare, according to new research.

In the March Budget, the Government announced plans to extend the 30-hours so-called ‘free childcare’ offer to children aged between nine months and two years old in 2024 and 2025.

However, two parallel surveys aimed at parents/carers and early years providers, carried out online by the Early Years Alliance, highlight a significant disconnect between parent/carer expectations of the new offers and provider capacity to deliver places in line with demand.

Overall, around nine in ten (89%) eligible families said they are expecting to use the expanded offer, while 61% said they are optimistic that they will be able to access all the hours and sessions they want, on the days they need.

However, many providers warned that, despite anticipating surges in demand, they will not have the capacity to increase places to meet parent and carer expectations.

Of those providers who are planning to offer places as part of the new two-year-old offer, more than eight in ten (83%) providers said they expect this to result in an increase in demand for places. However, of these, three in five (60%) are not planning to increase the number of places offered to meet demand.

Similarly, while 77% of providers planning to offer one-year-old places said they anticipate a rise in demand, 72% of these have said they are not planning to increase the number of places to match.

Across both offers, providers highlighted a lack of space or sufficient staff as key reasons for them being unable to offer an increased number of ‘funded’ places. More than four in ten (42%) of all providers surveyed said their setting is already full with a waiting list.

The Alliance survey also found that a significant proportion of providers may choose to continue delivering places for one- and two-year-olds, but charge for them privately rather than delivering them via the government’s ‘free childcare’ scheme.

Of the 96% of respondents who currently offer places to non-funded two-year-olds, a third (33%) said they are unsure as to whether they will deliver them via the government’s early entitlement scheme once extended, while one in five (20%) plan to offer a limited number of places under the expanded entitlement offer and charge privately for the rest.

In addition, of the 54% of providers who currently offer places to non-funded one-year-olds, two in five (40%) are undecided as to whether they will deliver the new funded offer for working families of two year olds, while one in five (20%) plan to offer a limited number of places via the government’s early entitlement scheme and charge privately for the rest.

What’s more, despite the phased roll-out of the offer, most settings do not feel that the sector has been given enough time to prepare for the expansion, with 59% of respondents disagreeing with the statement: “The government’s phased introduction of the early entitlement expansion gives enough time for early years settings to prepare for increased demand for places’.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said the mismatch between demand and supply is due to the Government’s failure to consult the sector at a time when settings are closing ‘at record levels’ due to years of underfunding of ‘free’ childcare. He stated: “As our survey clearly demonstrates, once again, the Government has blindly made a promise to families that many providers simply will not be able to deliver on.

“A combination of poor funding, a lack of capacity and insufficient time to prepare means that many pre-schools, nurseries and childminders may – quite understandably – choose to limit the number of funded places available under the expanded offer, or in some cases, opt out entirely. As a result, many of the parents and carers who are pinning their hopes on benefitting from the new offers when they roll out next year are likely to be left sorely disappointed.”



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