Government publishes plans for ‘affordable childcare’

Schools will be encouraged to provide affordable after school and holiday childcare and school nurseries will be able to take children as young as two, according to a Government paper published today.

The ‘More affordable childcare’ paper sets out the Government’s plans for improving the supply of affordable childcare. It includes proposals to help schools to offer affordable after school and holiday care, either alone or working with private and voluntary providers, to enable nurseries to expand by “reducing red tape” and removing planning restriction, to allow childminders and nurseries that are good or outstanding to automatically receive government funding for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds and to support parents to access more informal care.

The Government says: “We want to encourage more schools to follow the examples of trailblazers like Harris Academies and the Free School Norwich by offering parents childcare before and after school and during holiday times, working with private and voluntary providers if they want to do so.

“Today Harris Academies has committed that every new Harris primary academy that opens will offer a wrap around care service from 8am to 6pm as a minimum for the children that attend. The Free School Norwich offers childcare for parents before and after school and for 51 weeks a year, all on a self-funding basis.”

The Government plans to extend the planning relaxations recently introduced for state-funded schools to nurseries, such as using vacant office space and it says all good and outstanding childminders and nurseries will automatically be eligible to receive government early education funding from September. It says this will mean that over 80% of nurseries and over 70% of childminders would be able to receive this funding. It adds that less than 10% of childminders currently offer funded places. It says: “This reform will help create a fairer market for childminders, which alongside the introduction of childminder agencies should see increased choice for parents who want high quality home-based care. This change will free up local authorities to work in concert with Ofsted to improve weaker providers and attract new strong providers to their areas.” However, the Pre-School Learning Alliance expressed concern that this might penalise parents in disadvantaged areas where nurseries are more likely not to be rated good or outstanding.

The Government is also proposing changes to regulations so that nurseries and childminders do not need to complete paperwork such as ‘learning journeys’. It says this will free them up to spend more time with children and it says it will support parents to make “common sense arrangements” with their friends and neighbours by increasing the amount of time that a child can be looked after informally from 2 to 3 hours per day. Currently parents can pay relatives to look after their children, but can only pay friends and neighbours to look after their children for two hours a day. The proposals also mention the childcare tax rebate to be introduced in 2015, but the Preschool Learning Alliance says it is keen to see the detail of what the implications of this are, for instance, for childcare vouchers.

The Family and Childcare Trust called the plans “underwhelming”.

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