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The Government has found a workaround to technical problems affecting parents trying to access ‘free’ hours for two year olds as well as additional funding.
The Government has announced a workaround for parents accessing the new two-year-old funding offer after reports of technical problems in addition to an update on funding allocations which has resulted in them estimating to be spending an additional £120m.
Since January 1st, parents have been able to apply for a code to access the new scheme for two year olds, which starts on April 1st and offers up to 15 hours a week of ‘free’ childcare in term time. The scheme is the first stage of the two-year roll-out of extended ‘free’ childcare from the Government outlined in last year’s Spring budget.
A recent Pregnant Then Screwed survey of over 6,000 parents found just 11% of parents had been able to get a code and 17% said they simply didn’t understand how the system works. Some parents complained that they have repeatedly tried to access their code, but the website sent them in an endless loop and then back to the log-in page. Pregnant Then Screwed claims others are being sent on a wild goose chase with incorrect advice from the childcare helpline.
Under the workaround parents who qualify for the new offer will be given an automatic code to allow them to access funded hours. Pregnant Then Screwed welcomed the news that the Department for Education has fixed some of the problems that parents were struggling with, but said there are still a number of challenges ahead with the roll out of the new scheme.
The new money comes despite the Government previously telling early years providers that there would be no more money. According to the National Day Nurseries Association [NDNA], the Department for Education says they will fund ‘however much it ultimately costs’. Childcare has become a huge political issue in the last few years as it is closely tied to the Government’s economic policy and to its plans to get more parents into work and off benefits. It is likely to be a key issue in the lead-up to the general election.
Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of the NDNA, expressed frustration at “the extremely last minute” nature of the funding announcement and said it was vital that local authorities passed it all on to providers rather than using it to fund other areas. She added that the whole funding system “is not fit for purpose and urgently needs reviewing”. She stated: “It’s been set up in a way that’s so complex that neither the Government nor local authorities appear to have a full grasp, so how are parents and providers expected to know how it works and whether they are getting a fair deal?
“These issues need to be addressed urgently if this policy is to work. The Prime Minister was quoted saying there are some practical issues but the sector is able to deliver this. But it’s the providers who have to make this decision based on what funding they will receive from their councils and what staffing requirements they will need.”
Meanwhile, Neil Leitch of the Early Years Alliance expressed anger at the lack of planning in the roll-out of the extended early years offer.
He said: “Despite the fact there is just over two months until the scheme rolls out, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country still have no idea what funding rate they will receive from April, making it impossible to plan – and in some cases, commit to opting into the new offers at all.
“Add to this the fact that many providers are still battling the impact of years of underfunding, and that we are in midst of the worst early years recruitment and retention crisis in recent memory, and there is no doubt that our sector is in crisis – and to argue otherwise suggests that the government is in total denial over the scale of the challenge it is facing.
“Pretending that all is fine isn’t going to solve this problem. It’s time for government to face reality and take the urgent steps needed to address the early years crisis once and for all.”
*Parents can apply for the childcare funding for two year olds here.