30-hour offer 'taking places away' from poorer children, claim providers

Joe Lepper
Friday, April 27, 2018

The government's 30-hour free childcare offer for working families is driving out disadvantaged children from nurseries, a survey of early years providers suggests.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) found that 24 per cent of 425 providers surveyed believe that the offer is displacing more disadvantaged three and four year olds who are only entitled to 15 hours of free childcare.

The 30 hours offer, which was introduced in September, is only available to working parents of three- to four-year olds where neither earns more than £100,000 a year.

Around thee quarters (78 per cent) of providers told the NAHT that 10 per cent or less of children accessing the 30 hours are low income families entitled to free school meals.

"As a policy targeted at working families this is perhaps not surprising. However, it is of concern that almost a quarter of respondents felt that the 30 hours offer had displaced more disadvantaged three and four year olds only entitled to the 15 hour of free childcare in their setting," states a NAHT report on the survey's findings.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman added: "Help is not reaching the families that most need it, and children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds could risk being pushed aside."

The survey also found that only a fifth of providers believe the funding to provide the 30-hour offer is sufficient to cover their costs.

More than two thirds (70 per cent) said they are having to divert funding from another part of the setting to offer the additional hours, 16 per cent are charging parents for some extras related to childcare and 18 per cent are charging parents a higher rate for additional hours.

The survey also revealed that 77 per cent of providers are delivering the 30 hour offer.

The most common reason for not delivering the offer was concern over funding, which was cited by 47 per cent of respondents. Insufficient demand from parents was cited by 36 per cent of providers, who are not delivering it.

Despite the concerns, 87 per cent of providers say they are likely to continue to offer the additional hours.

NAHT is calling on the government to review funding rates and the impact of the 30 hour provision on children who are excluded.

Roy Perry, the Local Government Association's children and young people board vice-chair, said the findings back up concerns from councils over a lack of funding for the 30 hours offer.

"This report reaffirms concerns councils have had that the funding behind the scheme is not enough to secure this provision for everyone who wants it," he said.

"We have previously warned about the impact on quality, with a risk that insufficient funding will lead providers to employ less qualified staff or struggle to provide enough support for children with additional needs or disabilities.

"As we approach the end of the scheme's first full year, the government needs to carefully evaluate and learn from the experiences of local areas to ensure that there is no reduction in the quality of early education and care provided.

"Councils need to have both adequate funding and sufficient local flexibility to work with their providers to ensure that all families have access to high quality care that meets their needs."

Earlier this month, a study by the Family and Childcare Trust found that single parents and families on low incomes gain the least under the government's 30 hours initiative, while couples and middle and high earners benefit the most.

Last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on fit and healthy children called for the 30 hour offer to be available to all children.

The group of peers and MPs said the move is vital to tackling social and economic inequalities.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Couples need to earn just over £13,000 a year and lone parents £6,515, to be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare. Those who aren't eligible can access a range of other benefits - for example parents who are working a few hours a week may be eligible to claim back 85 per cent of their childcare costs through Universal Credit."

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