Government gather evidence about the 30-hour free childcare offer

Proposals to provide hard-working parents with greater choice and flexibility over their childcare as part of the government’s landmark 30-hour free offer have been published today.

The 9-week consultation sets out plans to broaden the types of hours offered to cover 6am to 8pm and extending the minimum length of childcare sessions so as to provide greater flexibility to hard-working mothers and fathers, giving them the support they need.

It follows the Childcare Act being given royal assent, meaning the government is on track to deliver its manifesto commitment, backed-up with the greatest ever investment in childcare - with an extra £1 billion funding per year over this Parliament - and an increase to the national hourly funding rate.

The consultation is being launched alongside a review into ways of reducing red tape within the sector, so that childcare providers are freed from the burdens this can place on their time and resources, giving them more contact time with the children they look after. Plans to fund provider expansions so they can offer more childcare places in the areas of greatest need and deliver our 30-hour offer will also get underway.

Education and Childcare Minister, Sam Gyimah, said:
As a government we have put helping families at the heart of our agenda. Nothing shows this better than our determination to support more families through childcare than ever before - today is the next step on delivering on that commitment.
Hard-working parents have all sorts of shift patterns, so childcare needs to be more flexible as well as more affordable. Our consultation sets out how we could achieve this, with greater choice over the hours available to parents that better meet the demands of the 21st century, so they can balance raising their children with their working lives.
Some councils are already doing innovative work with childcare providers to give more flexible support to parents. In Brighton and Hove, 4 out of 5 year-round nurseries are offering a stretched entitlement to provide families with childcare support during the holidays; and Swindon Council has started offering weekend early education sessions since January 2016.

We want to deliver greater flexibility across the country, that’s why our consultation will ask for views on how we could:
  • provide the offer between 6am to 8pm to further support working parents in shift patterns
  • stretch the entitlement across the full year
  • make sure children with special education needs or disabilities can access the free entitlement
Eight local authorities will lead the way and deliver the doubling of the current 15-hour free childcare offer a year early, starting in the autumn. These early implementers will help shape the Department for Education’s planning as it prepares for full roll-out of the extended childcare offer from September 2017.

They are being supported by a number of early innovators, who will be testing innovative approaches to delivery so the government gets a clear picture of what will work and how to ensure as many children as possible benefit from free childcare, giving them the very best start in life.

These schemes attracted considerable interest from providers and councils, with around 1,800 contacting us to register their interest in taking part in trialling our landmark offer and testing out new innovations in childcare.

One of the early implementers, City of York, is already working to support our ambitions. Nicola Sawyer, Policy and Planning Manager for the council’s childcare strategy service, said:
Being an early implementer for the 30-hours free childcare is fantastic news for York’s parents and carers. As the only authority in the country to be asked to deliver across the whole local authority area, we feel we are in a very privileged position as the rest of the country will be learning from our experiences.
In York there is already some flexible provision on offer to cover weekends, shift work and early morning or late evening and we also deliver 2 stretched offer models across 48 and 51 weeks of the year, however we are looking forward to continuing to work closely with our providers and parents and carers to further develop these models of flexible care to meet local need.
The government will be creating more childcare places by targeting funding to those areas where this is greatest need for additional places. From today, local authorities, working in partnership with providers in their area, will be invited to express their interest in capital grant funding to support 30 hours delivery - linked to the £50 million announced in last year’s Spending Review.

Alongside this, the Cutting Red Tape Review will look at unnecessary burdens being placed on childcare providers. The review, led by Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock, is part of a wider drive across government to free up business from bureaucracy and other unnecessary red tape in an effort to help encourage more high-quality providers to join the sector, and help existing settings to expand.

Minister of the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Matt Hancock, said:
Making sure parents can access safe and affordable childcare is vital if we want to give children the best start in life and support parents to work. This review will help make sure providers spend less time dealing with unnecessary regulations or filling out paperwork, and more time with the children in their care. It is all part of our plan to help working people at every stage of their lives.
Welcoming today’s announcement, the Chief Executive of 4Children, Imelda Redmond CBE, said:
4Children is pleased that this long awaited consultation has arrived. In order to realise the ambition of the 30-hours policy, it is vital the sector has an input - particularly around the subjects of eligibility and flexibility. We welcome the fact that government has recognised the importance of clear information for parents, as well as the implications for families with children with SEND, and are glad these form part of the consultation.
News that local authorities will be able to apply for capital funding to help implement the policy signals a step in the right direction. 4Children hopes this demonstrates that government understands sufficient funding for the delivery of places is vital if this policy is to fulfil its potential in easing some of the childcare burden on working families.
The Council for Disabled Children has also welcomed today’s news, saying:
Council for Disabled Children welcomes this consultation and is really pleased to see the commitment to ensuring that all children access the new entitlement, also to an open discussion about the practicalities of how this should be achieved.‎

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