Warning of huge challenges facing extended early years plan

The Public Accounts Committee has written a letter to the Department for Education warning of big challenges and risks involved in the roll-out of the Government’s extended childcare plan.

Close up of child's hands playing with colorful plastic bricks and red motocicle at the table. Toddler having fun and building out of bright constructor bricks. Early years childcare

 

The Department for Education has made good progress getting the extended childcare programme off the ground, but now faces huge challenges in increasing the number of places available for children, according to a letter sent to the Department by a parliamentary committee.

The Public Accounts Committee says the Department estimates that the early years workforce needs to grow by around 40,000 between now and September 2025, a 12% increase compared to July 2023 in order to extend 30 hours ‘free’ childcare to children of working parents from nine months onwards.

Even by this September, the Department estimates that early year providers will have to create 15,500 more new places nationally, rising to 84,500  by September 2025, with a fifth of local authorities having to increase the supply of hours by 20% or more.

The letter says that the Department is relying primarily on increases in hourly rates being enough to incentivise providers to increase places, without clarity over how providers plan to use the funding. It states: “It remains to be seen if the increases will provide sufficient incentive to expand or whether providers will use the opportunity to fill previous funding shortfalls, raise salaries or cover rising costs.”

The letter also points out that parents’ ability to access early years places varies significantly by area and is affected by the number and distribution of providers locally as well as factors like the level of deprivation in an area. The Department says that no local authorities have reported issues with meeting demand to date, but it cannot guarantee that every parent got a place with the hours and the provider they needed.

Other issues raised in the letter in include the impact on disadvantaged and special needs children and quality of education. It calls on the Department to develop interim milestones to measure progress to its goal, monitor quality and the impact on all children and publish a long-term workforce strategy and delivery plan.

Neil Leitch from the Early Years Alliance said: “As the Committee rightly highlights, attempts to increase capacity in the sector by reducing qualifications requirements and relaxing ratios are likely to put the quality of early years provision at risk, something that we know would have a particularly detrimental impact on the children who need the most support, such as those from low-income backgrounds and those with additional needs.

“It’s clear, therefore, that whoever is in power after the next election must ensure that a comprehensive workforce strategy is absolutely central to their plans for the early years. Without this, it’s hard to see how the planned expansion can have any hope of succeeding in the long term.”

Meanwhile, the Sutton Trust has published its blueprint for social mobility ahead of the general election. It includes a call to extend funded hours of early education to all, to invest in the early years workforce through a dedicated Leadership Quality Fund and to create a new national strategy for children’s centres, with a roll-out of new centres in deprived areas. In terms of employment, it recommends that employers with over 250 employees should be required to report on the socio-economic background of workforce and encourage reporting of class pay gaps.



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