The Government has made a series of announcements on childcare, including wraparound care, which have been welcomed with some reservations by experts in the sector.
Local authorities are today receiving details of their allocation from the £289 million wraparound childcare fund for new and expanded provision of breakfast and after school care.
The Government says that by 2026 children should be able to access wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm for primary-age children in their local area.
Rebekah Jackson Reece of Out of School Alliance welcomed the announcement, saying: “This has been a long time coming. I am delighted to see the sector’s voice has been heard. Out of School Alliance has spent a considerable amount of time in steering groups, meetings and reviewing documentation to ensure it not only provides a much-needed boost to areas without sufficient childcare, but also recognises the valuable contribution of existing providers who consider themselves to be the forgotten sector.
“Having wraparound childcare in the government sights for investment is a welcome change for existing providers who have not only endured significant economic challenges but decades of inattention and lack of investment.”
She added that affordability was still a key issue, however.
The Government also announced £100 million to support childcare settings to increase their physical space. Jackson Reece gave this a cautious welcome, but expressed concern that early years might swallow up most of the funding. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed the funding, but said: “While any support to boost capacity in the sector is of course welcome, the fact is that all the physical space in the world won’t achieve anything if we don’t have sufficient early years staff to deliver places and meet increased demand from families.”
Purnima Tanuku of the National Day Nurseries Association added: “There are still a lot of challenges for providers to be able to access this support and undertake any works as the expansion starts next April. A big concern will also be business rates which can deter investment in early years settings as it drives up day-to-day running costs.”
The Government has also updated its childcare eligibility checker on childcarechoices.gov.uk which allows parents to access personalised information on the support available to them.
The website will give parents the opportunity to sign up for regular updates letting them know when they should take action to make sure they are getting the support they are entitled to. This includes when the new 15 free hours for two-year-olds shortly becomes available for sign-ups, with the offer beginning in April 2024.
Also included in the announcement was confirmation that the childminder start-up grant scheme will open for applications from Thursday 30 November 2023. The grant of £600 for those who choose to register with Ofsted and £1,200 for those who choose to register with a childminder agency is aimed to boost the numbers of childminders, but experts have expressed doubts that this will address the reasons the number of childminders has plummeted in recent years.
In response to the recent consultation on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework, the Government has announced some changes, for instance, it will allow managers to decide whether students and apprentices can count in childcare ratios where appropriate. However, it has said it will make no changes to staff:child ratio requirements outside of core hours.
Leitch said the Early Years Alliance welcomes the fact that “some of the most damaging proposals in the consultation” have been scrapped, but said “the remaining changes – alongside the recent relaxation of ratios –represent an incredibly concerning direction of travel for early years policy”.
He added: “We, of course, recognise that there is an urgent need to tackle the early years recruitment and retention crisis – but lowering standards as part of a desperate attempt to build capacity in the sector ahead of the roll-out of the extended 30 hours offer, under the guide of ‘increasing flexibility, is simply not acceptable.
“We’re clear that the needs of the child, and their right to a high-quality early education, must always be the priority.”
The NDNA says recruitment and staffing are now the number one issue for nurseries.