Everyone says, the free offer is great for parents, they love it. It's just greedy providers who refuse to offer it. Well that is not true. According to the findings from the National Centre for Social Research report commissioned by the DfE about the factors associated with the take-up rate of the funded entitlements. Their new evidence gives a much clearer picture of what parents think about the "free offer".
Parents think free does not mean quality according to the findings from the NatCen report. Parents' concerns about quality were highlighted as one key factor as to why they refused to send their children entitled to the two-year-old offer to nursery.
The following 10 reasons tell us why parents did not take up the funded places for two-year-olds:
- Parents thought "free" meant less good quality.
- Parents perceived the potential benefits of the funded places to be primarily childcare and consequently, if the parent was not employed, they did not regard the free entitlement as necessary or valuable.
- Parents preferred to keep their child with them believing that their input was of equal or better developmental value to that received in childcare.
- The majority of the parents taking part in the interviews were from a minority ethnic background and a range of issues relating to cultural and religious identity were highlighted. Some parents wanted to keep their child at home specifically to teach them about their culture, religion or language. Others looked to extended family members for support with childcare rather than early education providers.
- Parents of two-year-olds were uncomfortable and less trusting about their child being in formal childcare before they were potty trained or had sufficient language to talk about their experiences.
- Parents questioned the quality of care and some assumed that because the entitlement was free, it must necessarily be of poor quality.
- Parents were worried about quality, sufficiency and flexibility of the provider.
- Parents were concerned about costs and having to pay for top-ups and extras.
- Parents considered the 15 hours per week to be an insufficient amount of time.
- Parents preferred to use informal childcare.
I would like to better understand what parents describe as quality. The report recommends more marketing and branding about the funded offer but actually what will really engage parents is to better understand what education at nursery looks like and how it will benefit their children's development.
It's time for that long talked of campaign to bring the concept of early education into the homes of the public so they can really understand the impact of good quality education for all our children.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website