The government has published an open consultation on the 30-hours free childcare entitlement and is seeking views on how the 30 hours will work in practice, examining issues such as flexibility, SEN and delivery by local authorities.
The consultation asks for views on a number of specific issues:
- how places might be delivered more flexibly;
- provision for children with special education needs and disabilities;
- the role and responsibilities of local authorities in securing places;
- information about childcare for parents, and
- the ‘grace period’ for parents
One of the main proposed changes is to extend the period that parents can access the free funded hours from 7am – 7pm to 6am – 8pm. However it also proposes that “we will keep the maximum funded session length of 10 hours per day to protect the wellbeing of the child”.
It is also proposed that the two-and-a-half hour minimum requirement outside the hours of 9am and 3.30pm will be removed, and the minimum session length will be increased to three hours for care between 9am and 3.30pm.
PACEY has for some time been working closely with Government to alert them to the challenges that childminders and small business owners face in delivering the free funding entitlement. It is therefore encouraging to see that in the draft statutory guidance, the Government makes it clear that local authorities are expected to “pay providers on a monthly basis to minimise cash flow difficulties for providers”. It also states that local authorities should sign up to a Prompt Payment Code, which means that they pay invoices within a set deadline. The consultation also outlines plans for standardised, national agreements between local authorities and providers to encourage efficient delivery.
Throughout the consultation document, childminders are highlighted as being critical to delivery of the 30 funded hours. It states “we want to support smaller providers such as childminders to enable them to offer the extended entitlement”.
PACEY will be responding to the consultation formally and we will post further guidance on our website in due course. You are also welcome to respond directly to the consultation. The closing date for the consultation is 6 June and the consultation and response form can be accessed online.
Responding to the publication of the consultation, Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY said:
“It is great to see acknowledgement of the barriers that all early years settings, especially childminders and smaller group settings, face in delivering the free funded hours. We welcome the proposals that aim to remove some of these challenges, including ensuring that local authorities pay providers promptly.
"At PACEY we have been raising these concerns for some time, so it is good to see that Government has listened. It is also good to see a strong emphasis on the vital role that childminders could play in delivering the free funded hours, and in particular in delivering the flexible provision which is central to the Government’s vision of its 30 hours policy.
“However PACEY is increasingly concerned that this much needed offer for families will not be a reality unless fair levels of funding are made available to settings. The consultation reinforces the message that providers will still not be able to charge top up fees to parents and that all settings, even those ”requiring improvement”, can deliver this offer. PACEY is concerned this is a missed opportunity to allow these small businesses, operating on limited margins, to sustainably deliver the high quality service that children and families deserve.
"Government should be using EYE funding to incentivise settings to improve quality and should recognise that, with limits in place, top ups could make a significant difference between a setting delivering the free EYE sustainably or not. If schools can charge parents for meals, trips out and so on, why can’t early years settings?”