Government urged to refocus childcare scheme

8 Feb 19

The government’s 30-hours childcare scheme is “entrenching disadvantage” by failing to include the poorest children, MPs have warned.

Parents earning at least national minimum wage or the living wage for 16 hours a week (£125 for over 25s) can claim 30 hours free childcare. However, the education committee argued this threshold should be lowered - and the extra funding given to early education for disadvantaged children.

Taking evidence from the Sutton Trust education charity, the committee heard that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged counterparts is already evident by the age of five. This gap increases throughout their education, the trust said.

The report said the introduction of tax-free childcare and 30 hours free childcare has “tilted public childcare spending towards better-off families”. It said that in 2016, a two-parent family on the national living wage with annual earnings of £19,000 would receive 6% more in childcare support than a two-parent family earning £100,000 a year – but the former now receives 20% less in childcare support than the latter.

Maintained nursery schools were an area of concern highlighted in the report, with MPs suggesting that they “cannot wait” until the Spending Review to learn how much funding they will receive.

The committee said the government should set out plans for, and commit to, fully funding maintained nursery schools by the end of the financial year.

Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have grave concerns about the future of maintained nurseries if the current funding does not continue beyond 2020. This could have a detrimental impact on disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs, for whom maintained nurseries provide a lifeline of vital support.”

Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee, said: “Sadly, we know that disadvantaged children start school behind their peers and that the gap widens, unless tackled, by the time they get to secondary school.

“It is vital the government reforms the 30-hour childcare offer and focus it on helping the most disadvantaged. The government must also ensure that maintained nurseries, which often deliver excellent outcomes for disadvantaged kids, get the funding support they need.”

Sara Bonetti, associate director of early years at the Education Policy Institute think-tank, said: “While the government has recognised the importance of early education in tackling disadvantage, certain policies appear to be impinging on efforts to improve social mobility. This includes the 30-hours childcare entitlement for working parents, which we find works against disadvantaged families, and may be impacting on the quality of provision by creating a strain on childcare providers.”

Rachel Willcox has looked at the transparency and sustainability of academy schools’ finances for PF.

The Children’s Commissioner recently found that more parents were being pushed into homeschooling.

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