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An evaluation of the 30-hour pilot has concluded that there is 'no specific reason' to believe that the policy will 'not be a success', even though almost half of nurseries reported limiting places in order to be able to offer extended hours.
The Early Implementer evaluation, published by the Department for Education (DfE), stated that a high proportion of providers in the eight local authority areas trialling the 30-hours of funded childcare were ‘willing’ and ‘able’ to offer the extended hours, and there was ‘no evidence’ that financial implications were a substantial barrier to the delivery.
Making his first visit to a nursery delivering 30-hours, children’s minister Robert Goodwill confirmed the findings of the report and announced that the number of parents now accessing a 30-hours place has tripled since April, with nearly 15,000 places being delivered – an increase of over 9,000 in just two months.
He said: “In just a few short weeks as Children’s Minister I have already heard time and time again of how 30-hours is improving the lives of families in these areas, many of whom had previously found the cost or availability of childcare a real worry.
“I’m delighted with the success of our Early Implementer programme, which is now not only anecdotal but confirmed in this independent evaluation. From cutting household costs to increasing the quality time working parents can spend with their children, access to 30-hours is giving families a real boost.”
The report, carried out by Frontier Economics, is based on survey responses and in-depth interviews with providers and parents in the eight early implementer areas that began delivering the 30-hours last September: Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan and York.
Whilst it found a high proportion of providers were 'willing' and 'able' to offer the extended hours during early implementation, around 30 per cent said that delivery costs had increased due to the delivery of the extended hours.
Local authorities reported that settings’ practices on charging and restrictions on when hours could be taken limited the extent to which parents could benefit from the offer and there was ‘particular concern’ for the impact these practices had on lower-income families.
Around one in seven providers had also introduced or increased extra charges for parents because of the 30-hours.
'Providers need clarity'
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “This evaluation acknowledges that many providers need to charge parents for additional items and those who used to offer an all-inclusive fee need business support and guidance to do just that. It makes no sense that the Government is not allowing these charges to be mandatory. Providers need clarity on this and need to be allowed to deliver funded hours in-line with their own business model.
“Private nurseries which make up the biggest proportion of the sector had the most nurseries reporting their profits had decreased and that their costs had increased. The report concludes that nurseries needed more business support to address this issue, rather than a fair hourly rate. This is an insult to experienced nurseries which have been providing high-quality childcare for years.”
She added: “Pilots say they had very little time to adjust to the extension, so surely the national roll-out needs more time and money invested in it. The Government needs to take stock and not rush this out.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, says the conclusions drawn from the evaluation will come as “no surprise” to the sector. He suggests it is not “unwillingness” on the part of childcare providers to deliver the additional hours which “jeopardises” the offer, but rather the “unwillingness of Government” to recognise the challenges facing providers.
He said: “With the bulk of childcare places being delivered by private and voluntary (PVI) providers and almost 40 per cent of these providers reporting that their delivery costs have risen, it is apparent that funding rates need to be increased to support the full implementation of the policy.
“Furthermore, with nearly 50 per cent of PVI providers reporting a decrease in profits, and many early implementers warning they are likely to limit the number of ‘free’ places due to concerns about financial viability, it is abundantly clear that more investment is needed.
“Ultimately, if these vital funds are not made available, we will see more providers closing their doors, more parents unable to access ‘free’ childcare, and more children missing out on valuable early years experiences.”