In the Queens Speech last week it was announced that the Government are to double the free childcare entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 30 hour per week for 38 weeks of the year, from 2017. However, it was announced today that a pilot programme will commence in 2016.
The current entitlement of 15 hours is for all families where parents wish their child to attend. The increase to 30 hours will benefit families where both parents are working, although it is not yet clear if this includes those working part time as well as those working full time. Nor is it clear if the criteria currently in place will be adjusted.
Local authorities will be required to publish information regarding the availability of childcare to ensure “that parents are able to access information about the additional free childcare being introduced and about other childcare provision or services which may help them to meet their childcare needs.”
One assumes that this information will need to be kept updated and a range of channels of communication will be needed. Can local authorities who have been making cuts meet this increased demand for information?
We have seen a number of reactions from nursery organisation across the news media. Many stating that extending the entitlement will become even more difficult if the rate of payment to early years’ settings is maintained at the current level. This view was backed by the Lords Committee on Affordable Childcare who in February said that the budget to fund free nursery places is not covering the cost of delivery. Today Neil Leitch of Pre-school Learning Alliance also expressed serious concerns about funding.
The coverage of this issue following the Queen’s Speech and the announcement today has been about employment and supporting working parents. While no one would say that balancing the needs of working parents and the developmental and learning needs of young children is simple, it is deeply disappointing that discussion of the quality of provision available for our young children does seem to be missing from government statements.
Prior to the election Early Education published an election statement which set out the evidence for high quality provision signed by recognised respected experts.
Over the next few months as preparations for the pilot areas are made it is my fervent wish that the quality of provision is explored alongside the economic issues faced by families. The link between the two is important as the concerns listed last week by a number of early years organisations illustrate i.e. retaining and recruiting high quality, motivated staff will become even more difficult if the funding does not cover the cost of delivery and will therefore impact upon the quality of experiences that children receive.