There will be a Commons debate on support for childcare and the early years on Monday 16 October 2023. The debate has been sponsored by Robin Walker MP, Chair of the Education Committee. On 26 July 2023, the Education Committee published a report on support for childcare and the early years.

Three Library briefings provide further information on many of the areas covered by the Education Committee’s report:

A brief summary of the report, along with links to other recent reports on childcare and the early years, is provided below.

Education Committee report

The Education Committee’s report on support for childcare and the early years was wide ranging and covered the childcare market, support with childcare costs, the quality of provision, the early years workforce, and special educational needs and disabilities in the early years.

Childcare market

The report said there “was little doubt” among contributors to the inquiry that the “child childcare market has not been functioning well” and “financial pressures have been forcing settings to close.” It added that the free childcare entitlements are “chronically underfunded” and this funding gap “continues to be a key contributing factor to the current [Early Childhood Education and Care system] market struggles”.

The Committee said the announcements made at Spring Budget 2023, including the planned extension of the 30 hours entitlement to children aged from nine months (pages 23 to 25 of the Library briefing on support with childcare costs provides more information) were “a welcome sign that the Government has realised that urgent care and attention is needed in the childcare and early years market”. However, it added that the extension of the 30 hours entitlement places “further demand on a struggling sector” and the sector needs “a sufficient funding rate for the funded entitlements” in order to successfully deliver the proposals.

The report’s recommendations included:

  • The Department for Education (DfE) should work with childcare providers and local authorities to set the funding rate for the free childcare entitlements at a sufficient level.
  • The Government should work with local authorities to identify areas where childcare provision is insufficient with a view to increasing provision in these areas.
  • The Government should grant all early years providers an exemption from business rates and private voluntary and independent settings should be zero-rated for VAT.
  • The Government should work to remove or reduce barriers preventing childminders setting up or continuing in business, including by allowing childminders to work together in settings outside their own home. Government amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, agreed during Report Stage in the Lords, aim to do this.

Support with childcare costs

The report said the most common concern raised by parents and carers was “the high and rising cost of childcare.” Issues were also raised about the “complexity of the childcare support system as a whole.”

The report said the extension of the 30 hours policy was “particularly well received” and the Committee welcomed “the Government’s acknowledgement that parents who need or want to work require more support for childcare costs when their children are younger than 3 years old.”

The Committee’s recommendations included:

  • Parents in training or education should be eligible for the 30 hours entitlement.
  • The childcare entitlements system should be streamlined. Parents should be able to access childcare as soon as they receive an eligibility code and the requirement to reconfirm eligibility every three months should be reduced to once per year.
  • To improve awareness and parental trust, the Government should stop describing the 30 hours entitlement as ‘free hours’ and should talk about ‘funded’ or ‘subsidised’ hours instead.
  • The Treasury should conduct a “fundamental review” of Tax Free Childcare to make it simpler and easier to use.

Quality of care for children

The report cited evidence indicating the positive effect of early childhood education and care (ECEC) and suggested access to high quality ECEC “is of increased importance following the Covid-19 pandemic.” It added that prioritising the quantity of available childcare over the quality of that childcare “risks damaging children’s development and widening the disadvantage gap.”

The Committee recommended that recent changes to the staff:child ratios in early years settings should be closely monitored and “reversed if quality and education outcomes are seen to suffer.” It added that the change “should be accompanied by a strong focus on developing staff qualifications.”

Early years workforce

The Committee said it heard “the early years sector is facing a recruitment and retention crisis” and suggested that high staff turnover “is affecting the quality and stability of early years education for children.” It added that the workforce is underpaid and feels “overlooked and undervalued.”

The Committee said it was “concerned about the lack of parity of esteem between early years settings and primary schools” and recommended that “career development for early years practitioners be made an urgent priority in order to attract and retain more people in the profession.”

The report’s recommendations included:

  • The Government should develop “a comprehensive Early Years Strategy with a strong focus on workforce development.” As part of this, the Early Career Framework for teachers should be expanded to the early years sector.
  • Staff development and promotions in early years settings should be met with higher pay and the Government should consider how best to incentivise and fund settings to do this.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

The report suggested ECEC can be “hugely beneficial for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as it helps educators and families identify emerging needs early on in a child’s life.” However, it highlighted concerns that early indictors of SEND in children were being missed in early years settings. The report suggested a contributing factor to this and difficulties of support “is the significant rise in the numbers of children presenting with SEND.”

The report’s recommendations included:

  • Training for ECEC practitioners in identifying and managing SEND should be part of the mandatory training requirements set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework.
  • The Government should increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to match that in primary schools and widen the eligibility criteria so that more children from very low income families can access it.

Further reading

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