The Department for Education has updated the operational guidance for local authorities and providers on early years entitlements, including 30 hours, which comes into effect in September.
The updated guidance contains more detailed information on the local authority audit process, as well as parent eligibility for 30 hours, and the associated application and validity checking processes.
Perhaps of most interest to providers is the updated section on charging models. The wording has been revised to explain that there is a presumption that parents should expect to pay for meals, other consumables or additional activities. However, as before, these charges still must be voluntary, and providers must give parents who cannot or do not wish to pay “alternative options”. The updated guidance states:
“Government funding is intended to deliver 15 or 30 hours a week of free, high quality, flexible childcare. It is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables, additional hours or additional activities. Parents can therefore expect to pay for any meals offered by the provider alongside their free entitlement. Parents can also expect to pay for other consumables or additional activities offered by the provider, such as nappies or trips. Where parents choose to purchase additional hours of provision, consumables or additional activities, this is a private matter between the provider and the parent. However, providers must offer alternative options for parents. This could include, for example, allowing a parent to bring in their own consumables or a packed lunch, where the meal offered is not suitable for children with specific dietary needs or the parent prefers a lower cost option.”
As before, the guidance stresses the need for providers to have a clear admissions policy concerning free entitlement places, and a written agreement with all parents that take up a free entitlement place (the Government has produced a sample agreement in Annex A of the model agreement).
The wording around deposits for free entitlement places has also been clarified to make it clear that these are permissible, and that the purpose is to give providers certainty that a parent will take up the place. The guidance states that local authorities “should work with providers to determine a reasonable timescale for refunding deposits to parents,” but “if a parent fails to take up their place, the provider is not obliged to refund the deposit.” Local authorities are granted the discretion to determine if charging a deposit will prevent take-up, for example, for the two year old entitlement for disadvantaged families.
Following advice from PACEY, the content on childminders in the guidance has been strengthened to make it clear that childminders are a “valuable part of the childcare sector” who “play a full role in delivering all of the free entitlements”. Childminders can either deliver the full entitlement or share delivery in partnership with other providers. The guidance also states that childminders may charge parents accessing a free entitlement place for a number of “optional extras”:
“There will be several services that childminders can offer as part of a broader package alongside the free hours they are delivering. These should be optional extras that parents can choose to pay for, and, as such, are a matter for the childminder and the parent. These services could include offering to pick up or deliver children to nursery classes or playgroups (if these fall outside the free hours taken with the childminder), and covering the remaining time that the parent is at work. In addition, childminders may offer an on-call service as part of their offer to parents while the child is at school and needs to be collected unexpectedly. This is a clear additional service that some parents may feel is worth paying for.”
Sue McVay, Director of Partnerships at PACEY comments:
“PACEY welcomes the updated operational guidance. It is an improvement on the previous version, and we are pleased to see a clearer acknowledgement of the vital role childminders could play in delivering all early years entitlements. However, improved guidance can only go so far. The biggest barrier to providers offering “free” places remains the low hourly rate, particularly when the guidance makes is clear that any additional charges to parents must be strictly voluntary. PACEY research recently found that the average registered childminder is expected to experience a shortfall of over £400 per child, per year, for every 30-hour place they offer. As a priority, the Government must guarantee there is sustainable funding on a long-term basis for all funded places, including 30 hours.”