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Got views on free early years education (AKA 'free childcare hours')? Parliament wants to hear from you

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MNHQ have commented on this thread.

RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 11-Apr-16 15:29:19

Hello

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee is going to be holding some sessions examining the free early education offer - that is, the 'free childcare hours'* that three and four year olds (and some two year olds) are entitled to before they start school.

At the moment most parents are entitled to 15 free hours for each child each week during term time; the government has promised to increase this to 30 hours for households where parents meet certain eligibility criteria.

(If this is news to you, you can find out more about the free hours here and here.)

The Public Accounts Committee regularly inquires into various aspects of government spending (see previous reports here) and wants to know what stakeholders think about the early education offer.

Their questions are copied in below; please reply on the thread to let us know what you think about any or all of the points they raise, and we'll pass on your views before their session next week.

Thanks
MNHQ

*We know, we know it's early years education! but almost everyone calls it childcare

----

"On Wednesday 20th April, the Public Accounts Committee will look at the government’s implementation of ‘free entitlement to childcare’, speaking with the Permanent Secretary and a range of education witnesses to understand how the policy is achieving value for money for the country."

"The Department for Education has made progress in providing 15 hours of free childcare to more parents of 3- and 4-year olds and parents of disadvantaged 2-year-olds, according to the National Audit Office. It has not yet, however, achieved full value for money because it cannot track the effectiveness of its substantial investment of £2.7 billion."

"Most parents of 3- and 4-year olds take-up free childcare places for their children. The Department’s measure of children’s outcomes at age 5 has also shown steady improvement. In 2015, 66% of children reached a good level of development compared to 52% in 2013. However, the Department cannot link this data to the quality of individual childcare settings, and from 2017 the current measure of development is being halted."

"The review found that funding for free childcare has stayed the same since 2013-14 meaning that providers have faced real-term cuts. The Department has announced new average funding rates at levels which are designed to encourage efficiency, however, it does not know how efficient providers currently are, following the freeze in funding in recent years. In 2017, the Department will also double the number of hours of free childcare that working families with 3- and 4-year-olds are entitled to, from 15 to 30 hours per week."

"The Public Accounts Committee would like to investigate how the policy is achieving value for money for the UK and would like to hear your views on the implementation and understand how free entitlement to early years education has had an impact."

"§ Some parents have reported that there is confusion about entitlement to childcare and better information would help many of them. Do you think that there is currently enough information provided on free entitlement to childcare?"

"§ What have been the advantages for parents of the provision of free entitlement to childcare?"

"§ Are there any reasons why there might be lower levels of take-up for the entitlement to childcare for two year olds?"

Lightbulbon Mon 11-Apr-16 18:16:46

Childcare should be provided on the basis of need just as healthcare is.

To work a 35 hour week you need 50 hours of childcare.

It needs to be flexible, local and affordable.

Quality needs to be improved by developing the workforce into a profession.

LegoCaltrops Mon 11-Apr-16 18:24:13

I think that the idea that they want to "track the effectiveness of their substantial investment" is a bit worrying, do they plan to start testing 2 & 3 year-olds? How else would they track this - I would suggest that the main outcome of early years education / free childcare, should be that children get used to socialising with others, begin learning in a fun & relaxed environment (before they start getting tested once they start primary school hmm), & that the parents can find it easier to return to work. Work being, obviously, the ideal for all parents - heaven forbid that anyone should or could be valuable outside of the workforce.

Lower levels of take-up for two-year-olds - possibly separation anxiety? Being worried about the suitability of care, sufficient accessible places? We've not had a problem securing a place for DD when she needed it, however I've read on MN about people who literally couldn't find any place for their child, having explored every avenue, & had to consider an au-pair they could barely afford instead.

As an aside - do all settings that offer the 15 / 30 hours of free childcare, have an obligation to provide a certain level of education? How do they evidence this? If not, it appears a bit hollow to claim that it's for the purpose of early years education. Nearly everyone I know just calls it childcare.

Back to measuring the effectiveness of their investment - perhaps measure the number of families who have at least one parent who works or is in full-time education, & who is only able to do so as a direct result of the free hours. From my point of view, I couldn't afford to work at all were it not for the free hours offered, & the fact that DH gets a childcare grant as part of his student finance, which pays for the majority of the remaining hours.

kiki22 Mon 11-Apr-16 18:32:30

I will not be able to return to work until my second child is in school as I earn only slightly more than childcare costs with £20 a week left over, more free hours would allow me to return when he is 3 instead of 5. Having taken 3 years with my oldest and now looking at another 4/5 year gap does not look good for me returning to work.

BackforGood Mon 11-Apr-16 19:02:05

My dc are much older but I work in a role where I visit around 35 - 40 Nurseries a year.
The issues that I know of are:

1. The funding (around £3.50 an hour) that the LA provide, cannot pay for the places, particularly since employers have to pay the new living wage, plus contribute to pension funds

2. The funding provides places for dc in usual ratios (1:8 for 3 + 4 yr olds / 1:4 for 2 yr olds) however it does not 'top up' when dc need additional support. There are dc with all sorts of special needs in Nurseries across our city, some of whom could manage with 1:2 or 1:3 support - or just with 1:1 at certain times, like when their tube feed is being sorted, or when they need physio exercises done - but some of whom need 1:1 support, or even 2:1 support at times when they need to be lifted into standing frames, for example. Of course it's not just the dc with a complex needs diagnosis, there are all the children (for example those on the autistic spectrum) who might not have yet been diagnosed.

Apart from the additional care the dc need whilst they are in, there is also the time that staff need to meet with the physio, or Inclusion Officer / Area SENCo, or SaLT, or LAC meetings, or EPs, or community nurses. Plus time for training so they know how to administer medicines or what to do if a child has a seizure, etc.

Plus, of course, there are not enough staff at any of the agencies that used to be there to support them - the Area SENCos / Inclusion Officers, any therapists, not enough EPs, there have been HUGE cuts in the numbers of FSWs, etc.,etc so all the work falls back on the Nurseries over and above looking after the dc in their care.
Plus then all the referrals they need to make and evidence gathering, before the round of meetings to get the child an EHC Plan.
At this stage, many of the parents are completely overwhelmed and unsupported, and many of the Nurseries take on this role too - both emotionally, and also explaining to parents who all the people are and what the process is and why it needs to happen. Many nurseries undertake to support the parents with visits to schools too.

3. The 2 yr funded children, in particular are statistically more likely to be either a LAC or somewhere on the child protection register, or maybe involved in a CAF. I know they aren't all , but when they are, that's an awful lot of extra meetings, and also responsibility for staff on minimum wages.

HTH

RainbowPickle Mon 11-Apr-16 19:02:19

For our family, I went back to work when my daughter was a year old I felt it was better to have a job in the long run, so despite my wages equalling my childcare costs we gritted our teeth until we got our 3 year funding and it was more viable. It was financially tough as childcare is most expensive when they are babies. For our family I would rather have 15 hours funding from one year through to schooling starts. 30 hours funding will be great but realistically I can't increase my hours because I will have to drop them when she goes to school that has limited aftercare. 30 hours funding will only help a small dual full time income families. 15 hours from 1 year will give more people the opportunity to go back to work if they wish and take the sting out financially.

tilder Mon 11-Apr-16 19:15:02

They need to fund it properly. The amount offered per hour hour is pitiful.

Proper funding should not be linked to increasing ratios.

If it's childcare, it should be accessible 52 weeks of the year. If it's education, then term time only. Maybe by allowing unused hours to be applied during school holidays? Or a maximum number of free hours per year?

Personally I would like to increase the amount of salary sacrifice I can use to pay for childcare. If that can be made more tax efficient, are there other ways that taxes could be relaxed to help childcare providers?

coffeeisnectar Mon 11-Apr-16 19:16:33

My DC no longer need this as they are a lot older however I do have huge concerns that the provision of free childcare (to the parent) is going to be to the detriment of the nursery itself. With the introduction of the living wage and the govenment only paying £3.50 per hour for the free childcare hours, there could well be a large number of nurseries closing within the next few years as it's simply not economically viable to keep running at a loss.

Perhaps they could increase the amount paid to the nurseries to cover the hourly rate per child or we could face a huge early years childcare shortage which means very few parents of under-5s, mostly mums, will not be able to work at all until their child reaches school age.

BackforGood Mon 11-Apr-16 19:21:45

I also think they just made the wild promise of 30 hours, as a pre-election bribe, without actually doing any research about it. In our authority, there are thousands of dc who cannot get places with the current entitlement - maybe they should have looked at the reasons behind that, before making wild promises about being able to offer even more hours to people.

IvyLeaf Mon 11-Apr-16 19:27:13

§ Some parents have reported that there is confusion about entitlement to childcare and better information would help many of them. Do you think that there is currently enough information provided on free entitlement to childcare?"

There is plenty of information on the availability, what needs better explanation is how parents access the provision and how it works for 'stretched' offers. It also needs to be made clear that providers should not charge for the provision.

"§ What have been the advantages for parents of the provision of free entitlement to childcare?"

It has helped many parents return to work or volunteer. It's also helped previously deprived children.

"§ Are there any reasons why there might be lower levels of take-up for the entitlement to childcare for two year olds?"

Because it's aimed almost solely at those on benefits who have no need of it. Free childcare should be for working parents. Free education for all.

tilder Mon 11-Apr-16 19:30:35

Plus is there a limit on how many free hours can be used per day? Or could 8am to 6pm be covered?

Solasum Mon 11-Apr-16 19:43:26

I agree that 15 hours from age one til school age would be better than 30 hours later on.

I think the hourly rate should be higher. Having talked to our nursery manager, they really struggle to provide the 'free' hours and there is no prospect of the local nurseries managing to offer 30 hours and remain solvent.

MsMarple Mon 11-Apr-16 20:30:40

I was offered 15 hours at nursery for my two year old but I didn't take it up as I felt that he was too young to be away from me, and wouldn't have thrived in a pre-school setting at such a young age. He was still very clingy and I couldn't see the benefit of taking him away from the one-to-one attention he got at home.

He started taking his hours at 3.5 when I felt he was ready and absolutely loves his time there - I am very grateful for the free nursery now, as I feel it has been good to gradually get him used to being more independent rather than going straight to school from home.

It seems to me there are two separate issues that the government is trying to deal with, being morphed into one here: encouraging parents to work by providing free childcare, and their concerns about children from low income families being disadvantaged when they start school. Clearly parents who work and have to pay nursery fees will welcome any help with that expense - and it might make work financially viable for more parents, but I don't think the second issue will necessarily be solved by putting younger toddlers into preschools designed for slightly older children. It would be better to provide somewhere free that parents and children could play and have fun new experiences together, with easy non-judgemental access to parenting advice and learning resources if they wanted them. In fact, somewhere exactly like those SureStart centres which were closed or had their programmes cut.

BertPuttocks Mon 11-Apr-16 20:48:05

It's utterly pointless telling parents that they are entitled to childcare when there is only a limited amount of provision available.

Our local nursery is facing many of the issues that BackforGood describes.

There is absolutely no extra support or funding for children with SN. This means that parents of these children have to choose between keeping their child at home or potentially risking their safety by leaving them with untrained and overworked staff.

There is also no funding given to support families with EAL. Staff are left with the almost impossible task of trying to exchange important information about the children in their care with families who speak little or no English at all. This can be dangerous when it comes to things like medical conditions and allergies. They have to rely on what little help the local schools are able to offer them (sometimes they are able to put them in touch with a school parent who speaks the same language and who is able to interpret for them now and then).

Many of the LA staff who used to be able to offer help and advice have now either been made redundant or have had a large increase in the number of settings that they now have to support. There is no longer any time or funding available to offer any useful assistance.

The nursery can barely afford to offer the 15 free hours. The chances of them stretching to 30 hours are somewhere between slim and none.

Before the powers-that-be start looking into how to make parents more aware of their entitlement, they need to do a hell of a lot more to make it possible for nurseries to actually provide the care and education that children need.

Bonkerz Mon 11-Apr-16 20:53:03

As an early years education provider I can say the way providers are pod is totally messed up. I'm not just talking about the amount paid per hour (sometimes as low as £2.88) but also the frequency of payments to providers which can be as little as 3 times a year meaning providers are working for up to 12 weeks with no payment.

I currently provide a total of 66 hours of free funding split between 5 children and it accounts for 90% of my income and budgeting is a nightmare. If the funding was increased to 30 hours I would need to be paid monthly to ensure I could maintain my outstanding grade.

I have two parents who use my setting for the full funding hours and they have managed to go back to work where they would have struggled before.

cheapandcheerful Mon 11-Apr-16 20:59:59

I agree with posters who have said that 15 hours from age 1 would be better.

I am an experienced teacher so on a good salary but when my dc were little (ages 1 and 2 when I returned to work), it would have barely covered the cost of childcare for the both of them. I have never been eligible for the 2yr-old childcare and yet was unable to afford it myself.

Cleo81 Mon 11-Apr-16 21:05:08

These hours have enabled me to return to work earlier then I would normally have done as we have a one year old and a three year old so the free hours make it worthwhile, only just, for me to go back to work. I am very graceful for them because of this.

However, even though the scheme is meant to encourage parents back to work. I don't think the 'free' hours are set up very well for working parents. We struggled to find a pre-school which was actually running sessions to fit in with working hours. They were all morning/afternoon or finish at 3.30. Not at all useful for normal working hours. I also don't think it should be limited to only 5 hours a day either. As for us we have to top up the extra hours my 3 year old needs to be there so I can work. Not many peoples working days are only 5 hours! This means I am actually only using 10 of the 15 hours but I am still having to pay to top up the extra hours. The 15 hours should be much for flexible, rather than 5 hours a day. Nursery and pre-schools should offer more sessions throughout the day rather than morning/afternoon sessions.

I also agree I would rather have 15 hours offered from 1 or 2 than 30 hours at 3. We would be significantly better off financially and I would return to work for more hours if we didn't have two lots of childcare to pay for. These hours should be used with childminders as well as nurseries.

Bonkerz Mon 11-Apr-16 21:20:36

I don't think it's widely known that childminders offer the free funded hours and are much more flexible than nurseries and plays schools and childminders have to follow the same curriculum and be inspected by OFSTED too. Our ratios are also smaller which is usually better for younger children.

Want2bSupermum Mon 11-Apr-16 21:22:28

I would like provision to be based on household income with coverage provided to coincide with working hours for low income families. The amount paid out of pocket for dual working parents or single parents should be fully tax deductible.

I think this is the only 'fair' way to do it. Priority should be given to children from poor families first and then dual working families. I also think SEN should be carefully reviewed. Our son has been diagnosed with ASD. He is in an ABA program. Yes it costs money but the goal is to have him in a regular classroom by the tims he reaches kindergarten.

livvylongpants Mon 11-Apr-16 21:33:59

I think there is a stigma attached to the 2 year old funding, my son gets it as he has autism and many don't realise you can get the funding for that and presume its because we are on benefits.

However the funding has done wonders for my son, he loves preschool and is slowly coming on socially there.

However if you are going to offer free early education to children with SEN then you need to back that up with the extra support they need too. we've been fighting since January for 1:1 for DS who desperately needs that support, the preschool are currrently providing it themselves, as they always work 1 above ratio, but this is at a detriment to the other children who attend during the 10 hours a week he is there.

Hamiltoes Mon 11-Apr-16 21:35:06

........."§ Some parents have reported that there is confusion about entitlement to childcare and better information would help many of them. Do you think that there is currently enough information provided on free entitlement to childcare?".........

Maybe not so much confusing as deceiving though really, you get 15hrs free spread over 5 days in council run nurseries (which means you need to have somebody not working to do pick up and drop offs).

If you need to use a private nursery because you work, and can actually find a space in one (good luck), you only get a discounted rate for 3hrs of the day and you have to pay from your own pocket until the council gives you a rebate once per term.

Just to add too, can we remember the funded hours of "childcare" EDUCATION are only for 38 weeks while nurseries expect payment for 50.
How can the gov say staff are to be paid £9 per hour but only fund children at £3 per hour? Thats 3 kids needed just to pay the wages of 1 member of staff, forgetting overheads, managers, equipment, food, nappies, wipes, trips, pensions, national insurance, holiday pay etc. Let alone children who need additional support.

I fail to see how the 30hr "free" will actually work in reality.

....."§ What have been the advantages for parents of the provision of free entitlement to childcare?"....

It's cheaper, I suppose. But isn't the current entitlement education, not childcare? I think it's extremely important that childcare is kept exclusively for those who need it to work. I'm going to be frank... I waited months on getting a space at my local fee paying nursery and it was hellish trying to sort childcare for work while I was waiting. I waited forever on a space because its full of funded two year old children of single parents who don't work. I firmly believe disadvantaged children should get a head start in education, but there we go again confusing childcare (fee paying nursery) with education (council run nursery). Lets be honest, there is no need for a funded two year old to be prioritised over my two year old for childcare just because I choose to get up and go to work every day and their mother or father doesn't. I don't think that automatically makes them disadvantaged. Good policy, ridiculously implemented.

"§ Are there any reasons why there might be lower levels of take-up for the entitlement to childcare for two year olds?"

It seems to high in my area and I wish it was lower.

If I could write the policy now it would be that 2/3/4yo of non-working parents are entitled to 15hrs free education in term time, council run nursery. Dual/ lone parent working families should receive 15hrs FULLY FUNDED in a childcare setting from 6m, and can then choose to swap the childcare type setting for the education type setting when they reach 3yo. Voila!

BadlyWrittenPoem Mon 11-Apr-16 21:50:12

"§ Are there any reasons why there might be lower levels of take-up for the entitlement to childcare for two year olds?"

Because people want to look after their children themselves and not stick them into childcare at age 2 when they don't need to. Even if I was going down the state nursery and school route I wouldn't dream as a SAHM of putting my 2 year old in nursery and as far as I understand it if you wanted the childcare because you were both out at work you'd be earning too much to qualify.

JustPoppingIn Mon 11-Apr-16 22:23:31

My 2 year old was entitled to FEET which we took advantage off. I think however we did struggle at first to get the nursery to understand our DS's needs. I think 2 year old funding should be supplied alongside training and information for nurseries to ensure they understand the needs of children who fit into these groups.

I think parents do benefit from FEET funding as it makes going to work more affordable.

I think the funding that the councils give is too low. I want my DS to receive a high quality pre school education, which he enjoys and benefits from, I don't understand how nurseries can continue to provide this if they are receiving such a low level of funding for 30 hours a week.

.

BackforGood Mon 11-Apr-16 23:30:39

I think the Gvmnt needs to sort out in it's own mind, before going any further with this, exactly what it is trying to do.

The Early Education Entitlement (ie, the 38 weeks of 15 hours of high quality childcare provision for pre-schoolers) was never there as free childcare.
The ridiculous election promise of free childcare for 30 hours a week, is a completely different thing. It needs to separate them out and decide if this is about enabling parents to go to work when their dc are pre-schoolers, or if this is about trying to offer pre-school education and try to iron out some of the inequalities between dc starting school. No reason why it can't do both if it chose to, but it needs to be clear what it is talking about.

However, both scenarios need to be properly funded, including all those dc and families who need additional support.

TrollTheRespawnJeremy Mon 11-Apr-16 23:45:05

Regarding the lower uptake for 2 year old. I wanted to be a parent and spend that important time with my child. There was no way that I would send her at that age.

The 15 hours a week at 3/4 wasnice for her as amounted to 3 hours a day which is nothing. It wasn't enough time to allow me to work.

My daughter was meeting her early years targets because of the work that I put in. Not the nursery.

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