Five ways councils can get more from 30 hours funded childcare

James Hempsall
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

As the second year of 30 hours funded childcare approaches, James Hempsall outlines what council leaders need to do to ensure the policy reaches those eligible and delivers on early years and social mobility duties.

Local authorities can ensure the 30 hours childcare policy is part of a co-ordinated strategy for the early years as it enters its second year. Picture: Kablonk Micro/Adobe Stock
Local authorities can ensure the 30 hours childcare policy is part of a co-ordinated strategy for the early years as it enters its second year. Picture: Kablonk Micro/Adobe Stock

Thirty hours of government-funded childcare for three- and four-year-olds has been the single biggest change to business and funding in the early years sector that I can remember. It has doubled the number of hours 330,000 children are entitled to receive - that sort of change does not happen without significant impact, challenge or hard work, in addition to millions of pounds of extra funding for local areas and provision. The achievement in the first year has been impressive, but local authorities can do more to ensure 30 hours is part of a coherent and co-ordinated local early years strategy.

Here are five key actions they should consider in 2018/19.

1. Year two will be different

Operation of the initiative from this September will be different to the first year. New children will be starting for the first time, and there will be different needs and demands.

In the first three terms, many children were already in settings and had their arrangements "converted" from fee-paying places to ones benefitting from entitlement funding.

In year two, new children and their parents will be using childcare for the first time - this will affect everything around the supply of places, their location and flexibility. This will have new implications for business models.

Another key change is the Department for Education will also fund 30 hours for children in foster care, where eligibility criteria is met.

2. Focus on provider finances

The real-time impact of 30 hours is now starting to be understood; financially and personally for providers and parents.

Each individual setting should be considering their experience, and what needs to happen next. Local authorities need to look at how 30 hours is affecting availability of places for 15 hours of free childcare for the 40 per cent most disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Business models should be constantly revisited to support change and sustainability.

Council teams need to be nimble in supporting providers to look at their finances, delivery models and market engagement, in ways that suit them.

Large meetings do not always work, and one-to-one on-site support can be prohibitively expensive, so a balance needs to be achieved.

3. Raise awareness of parents

The messages around 30 hours are not always the simplest or easiest. With new parents and children getting involved, it is vital such messages are straightforward, clear and repeated.

I have been struck by how much local authorities' communications have moved to social media. This is a massive change since the beginning of the two-year-old funding in 2013.

DfE and HM Revenue and Customs have often issued national marketing tools, tweets and other postings for councils to use. These should be taken advantage of, with local activity complementing national campaigns.

There needs to be new conversations between early years and foster care teams so that the entitlement for fostered children is outlined and publicised.

Agreeing the processes and principles to check eligibility and ensure the suitability of the entitlement and setting for vulnerable foster children is also important.

4. Focus on least advantaged

For the lowest income earners eligible for 30 hours - which can be as low as £6,500 as a single parent or £13,500 as a two-parent family - it is still necessary to make special efforts in informing them about their entitlement.

Once they are aware, many will still need sensitive development work and encouragement to break down the many barriers to their engagement, such as myths, confidence, low self-esteem or practical issues such as finding a provider.

This requires resources, which needs investment from early years providers and available outreach services, including children's centres, community projects and health visitors for example.

These meet priorities outlined in an area's social mobility action plan (see box).

5. Streamline systems

It has been a year of developing and learning to navigate new IT and administrative systems, both locally and nationally, for councils and providers.

There is a growing desire to improve and streamline, and I think everyone wants the initiative to make the greatest difference for families proportionate to the amount of public money being spent.

This really needs to be one of the greatest missions throughout the year - avoiding unnecessary processes not only saves time, but makes efficient use of finite resources.

Monthly payments also need to be in place from September 2018, where this has been agreed and requested by providers locally.

More could be done to ensure all authorities have an up-to-date and published Childcare Sufficiency Assessment (CSA), which is still a duty in the Childcare Act (2016).

CSAs remain crucial to ensure we fully understand the local dynamics of economics and supply and demand, and share this information with the sector, to support their awareness and planning, and to inform the council's market management role across the maintained and independent sectors.

Each section of an early years' strategy is interdependent. Sufficient childcare can only be achieved if families know about it, through good information services, outreach and partnership working.

Good information drives demand, which can also improve quality - through competition and information about choosing provision - and supports providers in the market to change and respond to modern parents' needs.

Early childhood services create pathways to childcare and employment, which in turn improves outcomes for children, brings families out of poverty, and narrows the attainment gap between least advantaged children and their more advantaged peers.

It can be all too easy to retreat to the trenches in times of uncertainty, yet by working together, we can develop new solutions and share best practice.

  • James Hempsall is national programme director of Childcare Works. Childcare Works is the DfE's delivery partner for 30 hours funded childcare


Parent Champions scheme helps councils get funded childcare message to disadvantaged communities

The Parent Champions National Network, run by Coram Family and Childcare, formerly the Family and Childcare Trust, has aided councils to register parents of disadvantaged two-year-olds for free childcare.

Earlier this year, the charity extended the peer-to-peer model, which supports parent volunteers who give a few hours a week to talk to other parents about the local services available to families, in an effort to help disadvantaged families access the 30-hour offer.

Parent Champions Enfield was set up earlier this year with the aim of boosting access to 30 hours for families of Somalian and Turkish ethnicity - groups that analysis shows are more likely to miss out on services.

With funding provided by the Department for Education, it was able to raise awareness about the childcare services and schemes available with support from the charity.

"We have recruited eight parent champions from different ethnic groups who are accessing the 30-hour funding, and will spread the word about the services available to them and the funding they could receive," says Ashleigh Carpenter, parent champions co-ordinator at the London Borough of Enfield.

It has run two training sessions with the parent champions to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need for the role, such as understanding how to reach and approach families, and the barriers to, and benefits of, using childcare.

Common myths about childminders - that they are not Ofsted registered, do not follow the Early Years Foundation Stage framework, and are not as beneficial for children as group settings - have been challenged by training parent champions.

"It is vital that communities are aware of all childcare options - school nurseries, pre-schools, day nurseries and childminders," says Carpenter.

Parent Champions Enfield is one of seven schemes in England providing families with information about the 30-hour offer through the Parent Champions National Network.

  • By Derren Hayes

Linking 30 hours to council social mobility duties

Local authorities are required to have a strategy that supports wider priorities for children and families including early identification, social mobility action plan (SMAP) and intervention agendas.

This is not only a way of securing or preserving necessary resource, it also serves to demonstrate that reasonable steps have been taken to be legally compliant with Childcare Act 2016 duties.

For childcare sufficiency, legal challenges have so far been minimal. However, 30 hours increased the explicit monetary value of services.

As outlined by the Cabinet Office in July, 30 hours is valued at £5,000 in its "investing to help you campaign". What would parents think if their £5,000 worth of services was unavailable to them due to a lack of local supply?

These are also included in SMAP objectives relating to improving early language development, and supporting home learning environments.

In addition, there must be concrete links and co-ordination with councils' other strategies for supporting parental employment for women, and for all parents currently in work, or seeking to enter employment.

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