Largest ever expansion of childcare in England’s history heralded huge success

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Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Government publishes new data showing 195,355 children benefitting from government-funded childcare for two-year-olds in successful April launch.

Hundreds of thousands of parents will be able to more easily manage their career and childcare over the next two years following the hugely successful launch of the largest ever expansion of childcare in England’s history.

This month, eligible working parents of 2-year-olds were given 15 hours of government-funded childcare for the first time, as part of the government’s long-term plan to build a brighter future for families and help grow the economy.

Since January, applications have been open for parents to apply for an eligibility code to access the new 15 hours of childcare, which they take to their chosen childcare provider to validate.  

The latest data, set to be published on Monday, will reveal that 195,355 two-year-olds are already benefitting from government-funded places. This puts the rollout on the same trajectory as the previous expansion of free childcare hours to three- and four-year-olds in 2017.

Today, the government has confirmed that 79% of codes issued have now been validated by providers. In 2017, 71% of codes that had been issued to parents were validated by a similar point in the rollout.

Thousands more children will have their places confirmed over the coming weeks. The government expects some eligibility codes will go unused as parents change their mind about formal childcare or were issued a code even though they didn’t need one.

All local authorities have reported they are currently meeting the demand from parents for childcare places.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

We are transforming childcare in this country to deliver the support that hard-working parents deserve.

As today’s figures show, our plan is working. Thousands of parents are returning to work, and tens of thousands more will be able to do so later this year and next.

Childcare expansion on this scale is unprecedented in this country, and we will continue providing maximum support to nurseries and all providers to make it a reality.

Alice Barrett, a mother from Nottingham, applied for the 15 hours from April for her son, Wyatt. Alice and her partner both work full time, and they are already seeing significant savings thanks to the new offer. She says:

The entire process for me was stress free and very well rolled out. We have recently received the breakdown of our bill for May, and we are saving up to £200 per month.

We are so grateful to be eligible for the scheme, and the additional funds we now have will help us with allowing a buffer for bills and any unexpected costs, as well as getting Wyatt back on track with his swimming and other activities his enjoys.

The government has also today published projections for the additional places and staff needed for the wider rollout, which will see eligible working parents able to access 30 hours of free childcare per week after their child turns 9 months old, until they start school. This will save families an average of £6,900 per year. 

The Department for Education estimates that just 15,000 additional places – an increase of 1% – will be needed for this September, with thousands of those expected to become available this summer supported by £100 million of capital investment and additional £12 million of delivery support for local authorities.

Around 70,000 further places are likely to be needed for September 2025, when the offer expands to 30 government-funded hours for children from 9 months old to when they start school.

According to the government’s Provider Pulse Survey published today, the largest barrier identified by the sector (45% of respondents) to scaling up for 2025 was future funding certainty. To give providers the confidence to support each stage of the rollout, the Chancellor committed to £500 million of additional funding over the next two years, providing a level of certainty which is already unlocking tens of millions in private sector funding.

Laura Trott, Chief Secretary to the Treasury said:

Funded childcare means working parents know their children are safe and well looked after. It is such a huge weight off parent’s minds, helping them pursue careers and play a part in growing our economy.

This month’s rollout alone will help thousands of parents into work. But that is just the start, as our full investment will also mean many more parents can get into work or increase the hours they work.

Last year, the number of childcare places increased by around 15,000, and the number of staff by around 13,000, even before direct government interventions to increase capacity.

These numbers have continued to grow over the course of this year, driven by higher average rates paid by government for the new entitlements than parents would have paid and £1,000 cash incentives for new joiners. Our new recruitment campaign has already driven over 73,000 people to find out more about working in early years.

To further increase capacity, a new pilot is also beginning this summer to explore how unused school space could be repurposed to support childcare settings to offer more places.

The school space pilot this summer involves matching a small number of private, voluntary, or independent childcare providers with surplus school and college space.

If the pilot is a success, the government will roll it out widely ahead of September 2025, helping fast-track the process for schools, colleges and childcare providers.

A total of 40,000 additional staff compared with 2023 are required by September 2025. A total of 170,000 places are required, with around half already available in the system and half needed as new capacity.

Minister for Employment Jo Churchill said:

This huge expansion in free childcare means more parents can return to work, boost their earnings and ensure long-tern financial security for their family.

We have generously increased the support working parents on Universal Credit can receive towards childcare costs, helping remove barriers and allowing parents to give their children the best start in life.

Parents with a preferred provider are urged to secure their place for September now, ahead of when applications open for eligible working parents of 9-month-to-23-month-olds on 12 May.

Parents will be able to apply for codes for September until 31 August, and the government has today updated the process to make sure all eligible working parents can apply, regardless of whether they are in work or on parental leave.

A spokesperson for the National Partnership in Early Learning and Childcare, said:

We welcome the government’s increased investment in early learning and childcare and have been pleased to work closely with those across the sector to ensure a smooth rollout of the April entitlement, so families can access this vital provision.

We are committed to continued collaboration with the government, local authorities and parents, working together throughout this process to enable all children to access high-quality and exemplary early learning and childcare.

Simone Carter, Managing Director, N Family Club, said:

We welcome the enhanced funding offer and recognise the positive impact this will have on many children and their families.

Making care more affordable will allow providers the opportunity to reach more families, and enable more children to experience the lifelong benefits of quality early years education.

Source: Department for EducationHM TreasuryJo Churchill MPThe Rt Hon Laura Trott MBE MP, and The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP

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