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30 hours' free childcare offer risks impacting quality of early years education

Early Years 2.jpg

The majority of early years providers are delivering the government’s 30 hours' free childcare offer, but they are struggling to do so because of a lack of funding – that’s according to a new survey by NAHT of early years providers, which we are publishing today. 

Key findings 
  • Almost four-fifths of respondents (77 per cent) said they were delivering the 30 hours offer
  • Almost four-fifths (78 per cent) said 10 per cent or fewer of the children accessing the 30 hours were low-income families entitled to free school meals
  • Less than a fifth (19 per cent) said the funding they received was sufficient to cover their costs
  • More than two-thirds (70 per cent) said they were cross-subsidising from another part of the school/setting to enable them to offer the additional hours
  • Almost nine out of 10 (87 per cent) said they probably would or definitely would be looking to continue offering the additional hours next year. 

The results suggest the government’s funding to early years providers is insufficient to cover costs, let alone higher qualifications. Underfunding the 30 free hours offer risks negatively impacting quality. 

Most of the respondents to our survey are finding they can only make things work by borrowing money from other parts of their budgets. 

The government’s 30 hours' free childcare promise should be a boost to parents. But there is some evidence that the 30 free hours appears to be having a detrimental impact on children from deprived backgrounds. 

Only working families are eligible for 30 free hours – children from non-working families only qualify for 15. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of our survey respondents felt the 30 hours offer had displaced more disadvantaged three and four-year-olds only entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. Help is not reaching the families that most need it, and children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds could risk being pushed aside. 

Ultimately, 30 hours' free childcare is a great idea imperfectly implemented. It’s crucial that early years education is high quality, well-funded and available to all. School leaders will continue to make things work as best they can, but we’d urge the government to listen to the findings of this report. 

NAHT's recommendations 
  1. The government should revisit funding rates to ensure the costs borne by providers are fully covered. Settings should not have to rely on cross subsidising or increasing other costs to make up for the shortfall
  2. The government should ensure providers receive funding in a timely manner. The financial stability of providers should not be compromised by delayed payments
  3. Government should carry out a full evaluation of the impact on those children excluded from the policy if we are to avoid reversing the success of the 15 hours' free early education offer
  4. The government should improve the infrastructure and IT that supports this policy, so it is easier to both obtain and validate eligibility codes.

Read our full report on '30 Hours - policy into practice' below. 

First published 10 May 2018