We are pleased to welcome the passing of key amendments to the Childcare Bill during the Lords Report Stage, including Baroness Jones’ amendment to ensure that the bill does not come into force until after a funding review. It was a close vote, 222 to 209, but our briefings with key peers undoubtedly helped influence the outcome.
If you weren’t aware, we highlighted our key concerns with the Childcare Bill in our paper, ‘An Early Years Place for All: The NAHT Childcare Bill Report,’ where we examined the challenges and opportunities posed by proposals to increase the provision of free childcare to 30 hours per week. This report has helped to raise the profile of member concerns and provided weight to our lobbying efforts.
Speaking during the Report Stage in the Lords, Baroness Jones explained:
“NAHT has found that almost 80 per cent of the nurseries based in schools are cross-subsidising the places from the rest of the school budget, as they are running at a loss, and that two-thirds thought that they would have to reduce the number of children they could accommodate if the new entitlement went through”
While NAHT agreed with the intentions of the childcare proposal, our primary concern was what could potentially get in the way of it being implemented. Nurseries could become over-extended for example. We were also concerned about how the government would ensure that families don’t lose out through failure to keep to commitments made to look at funding and consulting opportunities with providers.
“Many of our members have been telling us for some time that they are running their nurseries at a loss, subsidising them from their regular budgets at a level that is not sustainable in the long term. The government has to work with us to make sure that the policy becomes one that schools can actually deliver,” explained NAHT General Secretary, Russell Hobby.
Our paper found that:
- Four out of five early school leaders were already dipping into their mainstream budgets in order to subsidise required places
- Two thirds believed increasing the provision to 30 hours per week would result in an overall reduction of the children they could take
- Only 15 per cent believed the increase in provisioned hours was sustainable under current plans.
However, despite the challenges, a broad swathe of our respondents agreed that with the right capital funding, the childcare pledge could be delivered. This was the key tenet of our recommendation to the Department for Education, to fully appreciate that funding was essential to its success.
Baroness Massey of Darwen also quoted from our report during the debate.
“I note that many organisations share my concern. NAHT states that the failure to address funding—the important issue raised earlier today—will compromise quality and that early years education, not just childcare, is essential in order to have an impact on child development,’ she said.
We stated that the funding requirements need to cover four key areas:
Revenue funding – A national fair funding formula needs to be developed for nursery education so that mainstream budgets won’t be impacted
Capital funding – The government should work closely with the sector to ensure there is enough provision to meet demand
Funding Review - We support the amendment to the bill in the names of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, Lord Touhig, Baroness Pinnock and Baroness Tyler of Enfield which would insert a new clause into the Bill to ensure that the Secretary of State establishes an independent review of the free childcare entitlement funding system
Quality of Provision – A failure to address funding issues could compromise quality, driving provision away from early years education, and towards simply providing care.
Alongside funding concerns, Nicky Morgan’s announcement at the Conservative party conference concerning parents’ rights to ask schools to provide out-of-hours childcare raised some additional concerns, which included:
- Priorities – can all schools cover the cost of the provision? For some, they may have higher priorities in need of their attention
- Changing opening hours - many schools only provide childcare during term time. To extend provision beyond 38 weeks per year could have huge knock-on effects to staffing, running costs and building repairs, which are most likely to take place during holidays
- Autonomy – this has the potential to put head teachers in a difficult position if they have to refuse calls for expanded childcare due to other priorities. We’d like to see a focus on the head/parent relationship in regards to shaping these services, as it’s integral to the delivery of good quality education
- Amendments – we’d like to see the government resist tabling amendments to the bill. Ideally, we want to see engagement with school leaders on the feasibility of changes such as this.
“NAHT has repeatedly championed the importance of Early Years care. Now we need to see proper planning and funding so that this policy doesn’t fall short of its excellent intentions. Taking the first steps into a school environment is the most important stage of a child’s education,” Comments Russell Hobby.
NAHT believes that the profession should lead the way in developing and sharing best practise in the Early Years sector and is running a series of upcoming courses this term.
‘An Early Years Place for All’- Report by NAHT
Page Published: 20/10/2015