New figures suggest that access to the free 30 hours childcare for three and four year olds varies widely around the country.
In order to access the free 30 hours parents have to check their eligibility via a government website. If they are eligible they get given a code which they give to a childcare provider. If they have a place, the provider then gets the code validated by their local authority.
Government figures in September showed 71% of codes issued for free childcare had been validated by childcare providers, but figures published by the children and families minister show that this varies widely according to which local authority you live in.
– 65 out of 153 (42%) local authorities had validated less 30-hours codes than the overall national validation rate of 71%.
– 47 local authorities had validated less than two-thirds of codes issued to parents, while 14 had validated less than half (this includes North Yorkshire, one of the 30-hour pilot areas, which has been offering the 30 hours since April 2017).
– Two local authorities (Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea) reported having validated no 30-hour codes, despite having issued 180 and 82 codes respectively to parents.
On 12 October, the Department for Education released updated 30-hour validation code statistics which showed that the national validation rate of 9 October had increased to 90%, with the remaining 10% of parents (around 21,000) still without a 30-hours place. The government has not published a local authority-level breakdown for those updated figures.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said: “It’s incredibly concerning to see such huge disparities in the numbers of parents able to access 30-hours places across the country, with some local authorities reporting that less than half of parents who have applied for a 30-hours code have subsequently secured a place.
“We know that the overall national validation rate has continued to rise as the term has progressed, and while this is undoubtedly positive, these new figures show the picture is very different on the ground in many areas, meaning that parents are effectively facing a postcode lottery on places.”
The Alliance has expressed concerns that the money provided to childcare settings for the 30 hours is not sufficient to cover their full costs, leading to many not being able to offer places or limiting places.
Leitch continued: “The government chose to make this pledge to parents, and so it’s up to the government to keep it. This means investing what’s needed to ensure that all parents are able to the childcare they were promised, not just the lucky few.”