Alliance responds to Department for Education's 30 hours childcare report

The Pre-school Learning Alliance has criticised the government for turning a blind eye to the challenges that the 30 hours funded childcare scheme has creating, following the publication of new DfE-commissioned research into the policy.

An evaluation of the offer, conducted by Frontier Economics, noted that:

  • 39% of providers who took part in the evaluation reported that there had been a reduction in their profit or surplus due to the extended hours.
  • 25% of providers either moved from making a profit to breaking even, or from breakeven or profit into making a loss as a result of offering the extended hours.
  • The 30-hours offer was "not completely flexible or free for all parents with 'substantial proportions' reporting that there were some restrictions on when they could use the hours (48%) or that they had to pay charges for additional items or activities (56%). 
  • Local authorities who took part in the evaluation argued that many providers "can only be financially viable if they adapt their business models to offer the extended hours, for example, through additional charges for extras and parent paid hours"; that they "expected the pressure to develop these delivery models to become greater because the funding rate is planned to remain unchanged, while costs will increase", and that they believed "that the word 'free' should be dropped from the policy".

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: 

"The government's unwavering insistence that all is fine with the 30-hour offer in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary might be funny if it wasn’t so damaging.

"Every week we are hearing about more and more nurseries, pre-schools and childminders being forced to shut their doors because they cannot make this policy work. Our recent survey revealed that four in 10 aren’t sure they’ll survive the next 12 months. Now its own commissioned research is highlighting the challenges that this underfunded scheme is creating. How can the DfE describe this as a successful policy?

"With so many parents having struggled with the cost of childcare over recent years, it's no surprise that so many have welcomed this scheme - but let's not forget that they too are starting to feel the effects of the government's lack of adequate funding, with nearly half having already seen fees and charges rise as struggling providers try to bridge the funding gap. And of course, this means that, contrary to the government's rhetoric on social mobility, it is those lower incomes families, who cannot afford to pay above the odds for what the government continues to promote as 'free childcare', that are the most likely to miss out. 

"This simply isn’t sustainable and for the government to continue to insist that all is fine when study after study and survey after survey say otherwise is irresponsible to the extreme. It's time for ministers to face facts and start working with the sector to try and salvage this policy and ensure that it is, in fact, viable in the long term."