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Providers ‘will have to reduce places’ without adequate funding, survey reveals

Two-thirds of school leaders believe that increasing the provision of free childcare to 30 hours per week could mean they will end up reducing the number of children they can take, according to the results of a new survey.

The research, carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), shows that four out of five of the school leaders reported that they were already dipping into their mainstream budgets to subsidise the free places they offer.

Just 15% of school-based early years providers believed that increasing the number of free childcare hours was sustainable under the current plans, while 40% said that it would make their provision less sustainable.

Two-thirds (66%) thought that the 30-hour offer would reduce the number of children they could accommodate.

But many respondents said that, with the right capital funding, the free childcare pledge could be delivered.

To that end, the NAHT’s report makes four key recommendations to the Department for Education: to develop a national fair funding formal for nursery education; to work with the sector to understand the issue of capacity and consider how to make sure there is enough provision to meet demand; to understand that the provision of capital funding is key to the success of this policy; and to consider that schools will need time to implement the policy, particularly if it means they will have to reduce the number of children that they currently support.

Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, said: “Many of our members have been telling us for some time that they are running their nurseries at a loss, subsidising them from their regular budget at a level that is not sustainable in the long term.

“The government has to work with us to make sure that the policy becomes one that schools can actually deliver.”

He added: “NAHT has repeatedly championed the importance of early years care. Now we need to see proper planning and funding so that this policy doesn’t fall short of its excellent intentions.

“Taking the first steps into a school environment is the most important stage of a child’s education.”

The Alliance spoke out in agreement with the report’s recommendations, with chief executive Neil Leitch stating: “As the NAHT report highlights, extending funded childcare hours could result not only in increased costs to parents, but also in a shortage of places as many providers simply do not have the capacity to double the number of funded hours they offer.

“It’s vital that government resists the temptation to rush out a policy that, while attractive on the surface, is simply unworkable in its current form.”