The Department for Education’s Childcare Free Entitlement: Delivery Model includes proposals to extend the period across which parents can use their free childcare entitlement from the current 7am to 7pm to 6am to 8pm.
While the maximum amount of government-funded childcare will remain at the existing 10 hours per day, childcare organisations have raised concerns that the proposals could see children spend longer in nursery because parents will pay for extra care on top of the free hours to enable them to do a full day’s work.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, warned that the measures could lead to children spending less time with their families.
“We firmly believe that parents are first and foremost the most important educators in their child’s life,” said Leitch.
"Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that ‘in all actions concerning children… the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’, and yet increasingly, government policy is focusing exclusively on the ‘back to work’ agenda, with the needs of the child little more than an afterthought, if that.
"Perhaps rather than focusing so heavily on increasing the amount of time children spend in childcare, government should look at ways in which it can better support parents to spend more time with their children, such as encouraging and incentivising employers to offer greater working flexibility.”
Keith Appleyard, trustee of Fiveways Playcentre in Brighton, said the plans for delivering the extended free entitlement were too focused on getting more parents into work at the expense of children's wellbeing.
"Trying to pull a child out of bed at 5am – they will probably want to fall asleep,” he said.
“Ten hours in the office for you and me is enough – what about the child?
"[This proposal] is nothing to do with the quality of life of pre-schoolers and the family unit. It is just 'let's get people back to work and stop paying benefits'."
June O’Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation, said the changes could mean children are in nursery for longer than they are at home.
“The extended day this could create may, in turn, create a shift where the [early years] workforce becomes the child's guardian to a greater extent,” O’Sullivan added.
The consultation closes on 6 June.