With 30 hours edging ever closer, it will come as no surprise that I spend a great deal of my time as PACEY's Policy and Research Manager unpicking the detail behind the doubling of the early years entitlement in England.
Sadly, it is becoming increasingly apparent through the conversations I am having with our members, that there is not just a lack of information out there in the sector about 30 hours, but more worryingly, some of it is factually incorrect.
Last weekend I spent time with a group of PACEY Local Facilitators talking through the latest government policy updates and the implications for childcare providers. It was concerning to hear some of the inaccurate information that people have heard from local authorities and peers about 30 hours in particular.
At PACEY we know the 30 hours is not a policy without problems – not least due to the wide range in proposed funding levels around the country, from £3.60 in Dorset to £8.24 in Camden (you can read a summary of PACEY’s response to the Government’s new national funding formula here).
That said, I do think it is really important for providers to have all the facts in the front of them to be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to offer 30 hours. Whether or not you have to offer the hours has, in itself, has been a subject of debate. It is important to stress that offering the early years entitlement is not compulsory. As the provider, you decide.
The recent Government response to the consultation on 30 hours has led to some changes to the proposed implementation of the funded hours, and it is important for providers to be aware of the key points.
From September 2017, parents will be able to access funded hours between 6am – 8pm, providing a longer period of time for them to use their ‘allowance’. This does not mean that your setting has to be open for 14 hours per day, but it is designed to provide greater flexibility for both parents and providers.
There will no longer be any minimum session length (it is currently 2.5 hours), but the maximum session length will still be 10 hours. There will be no mandatory pattern of delivery – as the provider, it will be completely up to you to decide when you offer parents funded hours. Both the current and extended entitlement will be able to be ‘stretched’ across the whole year to include school holidays and weekends.
Using the Entitlement
The Early Years Entitlement can be taken with up to two providers per day. While you will not be required to work in partnership with other providers, it will help. Parents may choose to split their funded hours between a childminder and sessional pre-school, for example. If you think this is something you would be interested in doing, I would advise you to start having discussions with potential partners (e.g. local primary schools, nursery schools, pre-schools and childminders) and your local authority, as soon as possible. Initial feedback from the 30-hour pilots has found that partnerships need to be very secure for parents to trust them.
We are really pleased that the issue of payment delays has finally been addressed. PACEY has long campaigned for childminders to be paid monthly – and this will be a legal requirement of local authorities by September 2018 at the latest. Delayed payments have long been a barrier for childminders and other small providers offering funded places. While there is a time lag before this comes into effect, when it does it will be of huge benefit.
Another issue that regularly crops up is what it is permissible to charge parents for when they are accessing a funded place. The Government has explicitly said that the funding for both the current 15 hours and the additional 15 does not include food or other consumables and additional services. Therefore, providers can and – frankly should – charge parents for discretionary consumables (e.g. drinks, meals, nappies, wipes) or additional services (e.g. day trips, special classes) as long as they are not compulsory and not a condition of taking up a funded place.
There will also be a national model agreement to bring clarity and consistency to agreements between LAs and providers. This should go some way in alleviating inconsistencies around the country. LAs will also have to be required to publish information about local childcare online and update it at least termly.
'National Grace Period'
One thing that is still under discussion is the length of the national grace period for children who fall out of eligibility, particularly when it happens in the summer term. Government is still consulting on this and we will update you in due course.
We know that as a provider, you can’t make a final decision as to whether you will offer 30 hours until you know what the funding rate will be in your area. We are expecting more on the Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF) imminently, as rates under the new formula are set to go in effect from April 2017.
Further support with 30 hours
Before you dismiss 30 hours out of hand, please talk to us, share your concerns and consider carefully the impact it will have on your business. What you can be sure of is that come next September parents will be looking for providers who offer 30 hours and it could offer a great business opportunity for you and your setting.
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