A Better Early Years Offer for All?

Extended hours for free childcare, innovative pilot schemes to remove barriers to childcare, and a new National Funding Formula.

Never before has there been so much focus on working towards improving early years education and care provision, to create a system that is both effective and sustainable.

But what do these changes mean for the children in your care? Will these changes ensure a positive impact on the lives of infants as well as support working parents, and enhance the effectiveness of providers?

30 Hours

In September 2017, the government rolled out a new nationwide free childcare allowance initiative, doubling Free Early Education Entitlement from 15 to 30 hours in the process. The programme had already been trialled locally for a year before this, with eight local authorities in receipt of £13 million of government funding.

Such was the success of the pilot that an initial target of 5,000 was surpassed by 500, with 36% of providers experiencing increased demand and resulting in increased staff employment opportunities. A key concern going forward however is the financial viability for providers, and more specifically individual childcare providers. As highlighted by Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, providers must have the freedom to “deliver this scheme in a way which suits their own businesses.”

Early Innovator Clusters

And what of the 25 areas working in six regional Early Innovator clusters and their £4 million in government funding? In focusing on special educational needs and disability, and flexibility, the experiences of these areas in trying to make the extended offer more accessible for infants and parents have served to develop a more inclusive national roll out. What these clusters cannot stress enough though is the importance of tailoring the implementation of the extended offer to the local context.

New Funding Formula

As all of this was happening, a new Early Years Funding Formula was announced by the Department for Education (DfE). All authorities shall now be funded by the new formula by 2019-2020. Whilst the DfE have put transitional protections in place, uncertainty still remains regarding how providers will be affected in the intervening period.

Ofsted taking back control

In addition to these changes, Ofsted is now no longer working with inspection service providers, but has, since April 2017, brought all inspection and regulatory activities for early years provision under its direct oversight. As this change has been implemented, Ofsted has made a bid to tackle some of the myths surrounding these inspections. For example, no, there is no requirement for providers to record assessments on paper or electronically; they merely need to ensure that their chosen method of monitoring is one that aids a child’s development. This fresh centralisation of inspection powers also offers a step forward in terms of accountability – beneficial to parents and sector professionals alike.

All this and more will be explored in greater detail at the Raising Standards in Early Years Provision and Care forum taking place in Central London, on Wednesday 31st January 2018. Ivana La Valle will share lessons from the Evaluation of Early Rollout of 30 Hours Free Childcare, Purnima Tanuku will explore how the English early years service model compares with those of the devolved assemblies, and Lee Owston will delve deeper into the new in-house Ofsted inspections. To participate in these crucial discussions around improving early years care and education, please get in touch and book a place for this forum now.

This article was written by Lauren Powell