Schools struggle to deliver free childcare for two-year-olds

By Joe Lepper

| 29 April 2014

Schools providing free childcare places to two-year-olds are struggling to access funding and training, government-commissioned research has found.

Since September, 130,000 two-year-olds have been eligible for 15 hours of free childcare under a government scheme. Image: Lucie Carlier

The survey of head teachers and senior staff at 49 schools either providing or considering offering free childcare to disadvantaged two-year-olds found that more than a third had problems identifying sources of finance, particularly long-term funding.

In addition, staff at 13 schools said training and hiring specialist early years staff was a challenge, while a lack of support in addressing these concerns was highlighted by 70 per cent of respondents.  

One in four are also calling for support and guidance on how to work effectively with parents in meeting the emotional, educational and development needs of toddlers.

The findings echo concerns raised by early years providers that the government’s free childcare scheme fails to provide enough funding for places.

Pre-school Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “The provision of two-year-old places has significant cost implications. Providers are often required to adapt or expand their premises, hire additional staff, and ensure that existing staff are adequately trained to meet the specific emotional and development needs of the children who will be taking up these places.

“To date, the sector’s repeated calls for increased funding for the scheme have been ignored by government, and yet here we have schools citing precisely the same concerns.”
Leitch questioned whether schools could deliver childcare for two-year-olds without extra government funding.

“If the two-year-old scheme is to succeed, the government must accept that high-quality provision doesn’t come cheap. Pushing two-year-olds into schools as a cost-cutting measure is, as the survey results demonstrate, not a feasible solution in the long-term,” he added.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4Children, said: “As with all support for two-year-olds, it will need to be of the highest quality if disadvantaged children are to benefit. This means a nurturing environment with dedicated support from high-quality, skilled staff, who are able to support children to develop and learn through play. This must be a priority for schools delivering places for two-year-olds.”   

Other findings from the survey were that the majority of schools (76 per cent) already or plan to deliver early years provision themselves, while one in ten are working with private early years providers and the same proportion with children’s centres.

Three quarters of schools filled all their available two-year-old places, using promotional techniques such as home visits, parents' evenings and through children’s centre staff and health visitors.

In September 2013, the 130,000 most disadvantaged two-year-olds became entitled to receive up to 15 hours of free childcare. The number of children eligible for the scheme will double from this September with the government hoping more schools will offer early years provision to meet demand.

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