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National evaluation on 30 hours in England released

After 30 hours was introduced in September 2017, Department for Education have released an independent evaluation of the first year of the national rollout. Evidence was primarily collected from 12 Local Authorities (LAs) as well as a bespoke survey of 1,717 providers and 3,004 parents registered for the 30 hours funded childcare. 

The evaluation had two key aims:

  • Understand the implementation of the policy and to consider whether the policy is working as intended.
  • Understand the impact of the policy and to consider whether it is achieving its objectives o supporting working families and helping parents to work or work more hours should they wish to do so. 

Key findings:

  • A high proportion of providers delivering the funded entitlement were willing and able to offer the extended hours, although the policy required some adjustments to provision for some providers and the financial impacts were mixed.
  • Almost all registered parents had obtained an extended hours place, with very few not taking up the extended hours because they could not use them in the way they wanted or because they could not find a provider offering the hours. However, better information about the extended offer and how to access it locally could facilitate access for the unknown number of eligible parents who have not applied.
  • The offer was not completely flexible or free for all parents with substantial proportions reporting restrictions on when they could use the hours or that they had to pay charges for additional items or activities.
  • High proportions of parents using the extended hours reported that they believed that the policy is supporting them to work and having positive impacts on their family finances and quality of family life. These perceived impacts were greater for families with lower levels of income among those using the extended hours.

Potential concerns going forward:

  • Some LA childcare teams had been significantly downsized due to local funding reductions which may mean there are insufficient resources in some areas to adequately support policy implementation in the future. 
  • There was an expectation that demand for extended places will increase and parents will be better informed and more able to “shop around” than the current cohort of parents.
  • The uncertainty about parents’ future responses and the fact that two terms were not sufficient for providers to assess the financial impact of delivering the extended offer meant that some providers were waiting to see if delivering the extended hours will be financially viable in the long term.

Liz Bayram, CE at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) comments:

“This early evaluation reinforces the challenges the 30 hours policy is presenting those childminders, nurseries and pre-schools working in local authorities that continue to offer low funding rates, challenges PACEY has spent months highlighting to government. It shows around 40% of providers are losing money because of the new policy and some are offering 30 hours at a loss for fear of parents leaving their setting if they do not. Whilst parents are finding it easy to access a 30 hours place now, that is unlikely to remain the case in the future unless funding levels increase. The big question remains why do some local authorities have the resources needed to fund this initiative properly but others do not?"

“The evaluation also puts a spotlight on the wider impact of this flagship policy. Whilst any help with childcare is valuable to families, the report makes clear that fewer low- income and workless families have benefited to date. This issue and the lack of sustainable funding have to be addressed for this policy to be seen as a success for parents and providers.”

Read the full evaluation.