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NEWS: Government announces proposed changes in early years and childcare

Today (Monday 4 July) the Government in England has announced several proposed changes for the early years and childcare sector as part of its focus on improving the cost, availability and accessibility of provision for families.

We have outlined these for PACEY members below.

1) Consultation into proposed changes to ratios

Today’s announcement includes a consultation on proposed regulatory changes in the sector. For two-year olds in group settings: as hinted previously, the Government is proposing a move from one adult per four children to one adult per five children. This would bring ratios in England for two-year-olds in line with those in Scotland.

2) Childminder proposals

As part of its wider work into improving the accessibility, choice and cost of early years and childcare for families, the government has announced measures to address the decline in childminders. This includes:

  • Reducing the upfront costs of becoming a childminder via financial support
  • Allowing childminders to spend more time working from different locations – for example a local community centre or village hall rather than their own home;
  • Giving childminders greater flexibilities within the ratios when looking after their own children or siblings of other children;
  • Working with Ofsted to reduce inspections
  • Streamlining the Ofsted registration process for providers
  • ‘Slimming down’ the childminder specific Early Years Foundation Stage, reducing the framework by one-third to ensure content is targeted and simpler to navigate.
  • Encouraging the growth of childminder agencies (CMAs)

PACEY has made clear to Government that it must avoid implementing any policy proposals that would lead to childminding portrayed as a ‘less professional’ option for provision. We await the details of these proposals and will scrutinize them accordingly.

3) Consultation into changes for the national funding formula

A separate consultation will look at updating the early years national funding formulae for two-, three- and four-year-old entitlements which are paid to local authorities, to come into effect for 2023/24. It will also look into reforming the distribution of Maintained Nursery Schools (MNS) supplementary funding with £10 million additional funding for 2023/24.

4) Childcare Choices campaign

The Government has also renewed a marketing campaign to help increase take-up of existing early education and childcare support in England and Wales including the 2-year-old and 3-4 year old entitlement offers, Tax-Free Childcare and the childcare element of Universal Credit. You can find more information on this in our separate news story.

Helen Donohoe, Policy Advisor at PACEY comments:

“Ambitious plans for the highest quality of early education and childcare should be at the core of Government policy. What we see in these proposed changes however, is a focus on reducing costs and ‘passing savings on’ to families, with little mention of the needs of children and of the need for investment in a long neglected sector.

“We await the full details of the proposals, however there is every indication that these fall short of our continued call for a long-term strategy for our sector. We want a long-term vision that includes aspirational investment, a focus on progressive outcomes for all children, and a robust workforce strategy to ensure that those working in childminder settings, nurseries and pre-schools can thrive in their work and not just struggle to survive.

“In our recent survey almost 60% of childminders said greater respect for their career would improve their mental health and wellbeing. We welcome the recognition in these proposals that childminding is a valuable and flexible option for many families, not least because urgent action is needed to attract more childminders to the sector and retain those already in the profession. However, we are cautious. Our members are tired of feeling let down by Government, so we will ensure that they have a chance through this consultation to make their voice heard at the highest level and we will strongly resist any measures that risk childminding being perceived as a cheaper and ‘less professional’ option for families.

“PACEY will ensure that members are able to participate fully in the consultations, and we will facilitate a number of ways to do this, including discussions between members and policymakers.”