Free childcare extended
The Prime Minister announced plans to double free childcare for working parents, with the Government set to increase the amount of childcare available to 3 and 4 year olds of working families during term-time to 30 hours a week. This includes the 15 hours currently available as well as an additional 15 hours per week. The extended hours were originally planned to start in September 2017 but will now be piloted from September 2016 in some areas.
The childcare will be worth around £5,000 a year to around 600,000 families. This includes the £2,500 of free childcare already available to parents. The childcare will be available to all families where both parents work (including those that work part time) and will be in addition to existing entitlements such as tax free childcare and universal credit.
The Government also announced plans to increase the funding paid to childcare providers offering their services for free. A new Government taskforce will be established to ensure that working families benefit as soon as possible from the change. The taskforce will be headed by the new Minister of State for Employment, Priti Patel.
But research by the Pre-school Learning Alliance of private and voluntary childcare providers found the policy could create a £350m funding gap because hours paid for by the government are currently underfunded. They claim the gap could end up being covered by other parents whose rates would go up to subsidise the new scheme.
The research was backed by a separate report from the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), which found many providers are being forced to cross-subsidise their free places through higher fees or retracting the number of funded places, both undermining government’s aims to increase the affordability, accessibility and quality of early years education.
It is fair to say that between now and 2017 there could be more adjustments and we will keep you updated on these developments.