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The Government is to publish a report into the controversial pilots of free childcare for three and four year olds next July.
However, childcare providers say it will come too late for anything to be learned and that differences between the pilots and the roll-out will mean it will “paint a false picture” of the impact.
In September 2016, the Government launched 30 hours free childcare through eight Early Implementers one year in advance of full implementation in September 2017. It says up to 5,000 working families will be eligible for the 30 free hours through the pilots.
The Government says that in one pilot area in York around 83% of eligible families are receiving 30 hours free childcare already.
The Department has commissioned an independent evaluation of early implementation of the 30 hours free childcare offer. It says there will be a national findings event in the spring next year and a formal evaluation report will be published in July 2017.
The Preschool Learning Alliance, which has previously raised concerns about funding of the scheme, welcomed news that the study would be published, saying that in April the Government said it might not be. However, it is concerned that the small gap between publication and a national roll-out mean it will be difficult for providers to learn from it.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “Given that it was previously suggested that the 30-hour pilot evaluation might not be published, we welcome the news that these findings will indeed be made public – although with the full roll-out of the scheme scheduled for September, we would question how effective it is to wait until the start of the summer holidays to release the full evaluation.
“That said, we remain unconvinced that these pilots will be able to inform the full roll-out of the 30-hour offer in any meaningful way. Not only are the funding rates being used for the trial different from those that will be used from September next year, but in many areas, extra restrictions have been placed on eligibility for the trial, meaning that the ability of the sector to cope with the demand for additional hours is not being properly tested.
“It achieves nothing to paint a false picture of the impact that the 30-hour offer will have on the early years sector, and so we would urge the government to reassess its approach to the pilots and ensure that they are a true reflection of what the 30-hour scheme will look like when it’s rolled out in full.”