Will there be enough funded places available with the increase to 30 hours?
With the funded hours of childcare for all three and four year olds increasing from 15 hours to 30 hours next year, many children may find themselves losing out due to lack of free places. Many childcare settings have expressed their concerns over the increase in funding, claiming that the amount of funding received for each child will not cover the costs. This may leave many settings choosing not to offer the nursery funding.
In 2015, 94% of three year olds and 99% of four year olds took advantage of the entitlement. However with childcare providers already on a tight budget it is expected that places will be limited once the full 30 hours is rolled out. This can leave many three and four year olds unable to access vital early education. This could have a detrimental effect on young children, affecting their school readiness and removes the opportunity for early intervention.
A high percentage of providers currently offer the 15 hours funding and find this manageable. The sessions are offered in a variety of ways with some settings offering 5 hour sessions three times a week, whilst others offer 5 hour slots 3 times a week. Settings are able to fit these session into a week, most children attending either a morning or an afternoon session. However it is suggested that by increasing the entitlement to 30 hours, setting will most likely need to offer the sessions as 3 whole days. This takes away the flexible element and puts financial strain on childcare settings to provide additional supplements such as meals at no extra cost.
Increasing the sessions may also impact on providers who may normally be able to provide extra paid hours on top of the funded sessions. If the funded sessions are now offered as full days, parents may no longer require extra sessions, again leaving the setting in financial difficulty.
Longer session may also impact on the child’s well being and behaviour. Most nurseries are open for 10 hour days, this can be a long time for children to be in. With the increase of funding, children will now be able to attend the setting for double the amount of hours previously. This may not be the best route for children who are due to start school. Regular school hours vary but most are open for around 6 to 6 and a half hours per day. The current 5 hour sessions are a similar time span to a school day, whereas the 3 hour sessions provide the consistency of attending Monday to Friday. With the 30 hours, children may be exposed to long days and only attend the setting part of the week.
With pilot areas due to begin offering the increased funding from September this year, it is hoped that the next 12 months will provide unanswered questions and aid providers to find a solution to the financial burden and encourage more childcare settings to offer funded places.