Concerns over school childcare provision plans

By Jess Brown

| 07 October 2015

Government plans to expand childcare provision in schools could lead to a drop in quality, the sector has warned.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants to give parents the right to request that schools provide childcare during working hours. Picture: Lucie Carlier

Speaking at the annual Conservative conference in Manchester yesterday, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said parents in England will be given the right to request schools provide childcare for the full working day during term time and in the holidays.

But the childcare sector has voiced concerns about the plans.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the government opted to remove staff qualification and ratio requirements for out-of-hours providers last year despite significant opposition.

“We are concerned that the quality of wraparound provision available to children and families is likely to be highly variable," he said.

He added that the plans appear to have been driven by the government’s desire to extend childcare provision, rather than “what is best for children”.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation said the policy could be used as "as a backdoor for decreasing childcare ratios”.

She also raised concerns about the potential for schools to deliver high-quality childcare, pointing to findings earlier this year that academy chains were struggling to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. 


"The policy is based on the assumption that all schools are good,” she said.

“When you throw money at something, to start with, you usually do get about two years of a honeymoon period. But then the real test comes afterwards.”

She added that the government should be discussing the plans with the sector.

"Why is the government not talking to the sector about a partnership with us? We need to do this in partnership," she said. 



"Where is the voice of our minister [Sam Gyimah] in all of this? It shows no partnership, no understanding of the effect on childcare to GDP.

 We are part of a huge contributor to Britain's economy. We are part of the infrastructure service to the country that enables people to work."

Under the government plans, schools will not be compelled to comply with a request to provide childcare, but Nicky Morgan said they must take "reasonable steps" to ensure this is provided.

She said that schools would have to explain the reasons why if they refused a request.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said increasing childcare outside of school hours and during the holidays would need to be matched by specific additional funding and staffing.



“Some parents will welcome additional holiday provision, but will have questions about quality, and the training and skills of play workers.

"Local authority and schools’ budgets are already fully employed.

 No one is under any illusion this could be provided from current budgets.

"

While parents can request childcare to be provided by schools for working hours and holidays, it remains non-compulsory for schools to provide it."



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