The proposals for 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds is being put at serious risk by the government’s “lack of strategy and over-reliance on out-of-date childcare delivery cost data”, the head of the Pre-school Learning Alliance has warned.
Speaking at the organisation’s annual conference, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, warned that much of the policy, which is scheduled to roll-out in full in September next year, is based on “little more than guesswork”. His comments come two weeks after the Department for Education said it would increase funding levels available for the 30-hour pilot in York, following a threat by local providers to withdraw from the trial completely.
Leith said: “I can’t help but feel a sense of ad-libbing, of ‘making it up as we go along’ on this, and for a scheme this important, that’s just not good enough. Providers deserve better than that. The children and families we support deserve better than that.”
He also criticised the government’s use of outdated childcare delivery cost figures to defend its 30-hour funding plans, highlighting that several key pieces of data – including estimates on staff costs; mortgage, rents and premises costs; insurance; and utilities – were sourced from the ‘DfE Childcare Provider Finances Survey 2012’.
He said: “Much of the data underpinning the Department’s funding model, including key business costs such as staff wages, rent, mortgages, utilities, ratios and available places – were sourced […] from DfE surveys published as far back as May 2012. So by the time the offer is actually rolled out this data will be five and a half years out of date.
“How can you base a funding rate for 2017 on business costs from 2012? Imagine going to your local bank manager to ask for a loan and, when he or she asked for your accounts, giving them paperwork from five years ago? You’d be laughed out of their offices. And yet government sees fit to describe such figures as a ‘sound evidence base’.”
The 30-hour free childcare offer is scheduled to roll out in full in September 2017, and will be available to all parents earning at least the equivalent of 16 hours a week at national minimum or living wage; and less than £100,000 a year each. The government initially stated that the scheme would be available to all parents earning at least the equivalent of eight hours a week at national minimum or living wage – however, this criteria was changed in November 2015.
The offer will be trialled in eight areas from September 2016: Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire.