Government claims success for childcare roll-out

The Government is claiming success for its childcare roll-out, despite ongoing challenges for the early years sector.

Toddlers doing a music session at nursery

 

The Government is claiming success for the extension of free childcare to two year olds, but childcare experts urge caution over the figures.

The Government says 195,355 two year olds are already benefitting from government-funded places. Two year olds in disadvantaged areas were already eligible for 15 hours free childcare, but in April this was rolled out to all two year olds. The Government says the figures suggest the  same trajectory as the previous expansion of free childcare hours to three- and four-year-olds in 2017.

It adds that 79% of codes issued to parents who are seeking free childcare have been validated by providers.

Childcare providers are concerned about the sector’s capacity to deliver the programme due to funding problems and staffing.

The Government says that 15,000 additional places will be needed for this September when the 15-hour policy is extended to nine month olds, but that extra funding will address this. It states that 70,000 further places are likely to be needed for September 2025, when the offer expands to 30 government-funded hours for children from nine months old. It is also launching a new pilot in the summer to explore how unused school space could be repurposed to support childcare settings to offer more places.

When it comes to staffing the Government has become a recruitment campaign, but it admits that 40,000 additional staff are required by September 2025.

The National Day Nurseries Association says: “Early years workforce pressures mean that 38% of nurseries wouldn’t be able to offer any additional places for under threes. We’ve welcomed initiatives to get more people into our amazing sector but we know that getting staff with the right qualifications is the key issue. With high staff turnover as well, it is clear that the sector will need to recruit more than the 40,000 staff needed if we are also to replace those who leave.” It called on the Government to address the long-term underfunding of free places for three and four year olds.

Meanwhile, the Early Years Alliance says the Government statistics give “an incomplete picture”.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “While these statistics may show the number of places that have been granted, what they don’t reveal is whether families have been able to access all the days and sessions they need: a parent who has been given one day a week at their local setting – but needs five – may technically have a funded place, but not one that meets their needs. And of course, it’s highly likely that those families accessing places will be facing sharp fee increases for any unfunded hours they take up or additional charges as a direct result of years of sector underfunding.

“What’s more, it’s not clear from these figures how many two-year-old places are newly-created places, rather than existing places where parents have switched from paying privately to accessing government funding.”

He added that the challenges facing the sector remain “immense”, stating: “Even for a healthy sector, rolling out such an ambitious scheme would have been a tall order – but of course, our early years sector was already incredibly fragile coming into this policy. If the government is to have any hope of rolling out this offer successfully in the long term, it’s crucial that ministers acknowledge and tackle the fundamental issues facing nurseries, pre-schools and providers. That means a comprehensive workforce strategy that focuses on retention as well as recruitment, and crucially. funding that reflects delivery costs, both now and in the future.”

Survey

A survey of childcare providers published by the Government today shows around two-thirds (67 per cent) of group-based providers were experiencing staffing issues, compared to 49 per cent of school-based providers. Where providers were worried about funding rates over three quarters said that the rates for three and four year olds was the problem. Just 39 per cent of group-based providers, 33 per cent of school-based providers and 42 per cent of childminders said they were likely to offer more places to children aged under three as a result of the Government’s free childcare roll-out. Of providers who reported they wanted to expand their premises to take more children, the vast majority (92 per cent) reported they do not currently have the funds to do so.

Leitch said the findings show the fundamental problems of staffing and funding remain: “The government repeatedly claims that the early entitlement expansion is on track, but as today’s survey findings demonstrate, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that most providers have not increased the number of places they offer – on the same day that government figures show that around 85,000 additional places are needed by September 2025 – should set alarm bells ringing across government.” 



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