Reforms 'childcare on the cheap'

The Government's "destructive" childcare reforms face significant opposition from providers, according to a survey.

Proposed reforms have been described as "childcare on the cheap".
Proposed reforms have been described as "childcare on the cheap".

Legislation announced to MPs and peers in the House of Lords at the ceremonial highlight of the Westminster year on Wednesday included a Childcare Payments Bill to make good on promises of tax-free childcare worth £2,000 a year per child.

But a survey from the Pre-school Learning Alliance shows that most childcare professionals do not support planned changes to childcare in England, including plans to encourage more schools to take two-year-olds, implement childminder agencies, and introduce baseline assessments at the start of reception.

The Early Years Agenda survey - which received 1270 responses - found 81% of childcare professionals oppose plans to encourage more schools to take two-year-olds and 85% are against plans to remove staff ratio and qualification requirements for out-of-hours care.

The survey found 86% of childminders do not intend to join a childminder agency, 81% of all practitioners expect agencies to lead to an increase in childcare fees, and 85% are opposed to plans not to require all agency-registered childminders to be inspected by Ofsted.

Meanwhile, 18% support the plans to introduce baseline assessments at the start of reception.

The survey also found that only 3% of childcare professionals feel that the Government adequately consults with the childcare sector when developing policy.

Some 19% said they receive enough funding to cover the cost of providing free places for three and four-year-olds, while 32% said they receive enough to cover the cost of providing two-year-olds with places.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the results of the survey prove Government reforms are "taking childcare in this country in completely the wrong direction" and said the Government is trying to deliver "childcare on the cheap".

He described the reforms as "destructive".

"The first five years of a child's life are crucial to their long-term development. As such, early years policy should be based on the knowledge and expertise of experienced childcare professionals who know what is best for young children's learning and development," Mr Leitch said.

He added: "These results prove that government reforms are taking childcare in this country in completely the wrong direction. Rather than introducing changes that will support early learning opportunities and give children the best start in life, the Government is trying to deliver 'childcare on the cheap'.

"These destructive reforms are putting the childhoods of a generation of children at risk. Some of the Government's policies - such as plans to push two-year-olds into schools and to introduce a 'baseline' test at the start of reception - are likely to cause significant damage to children's early learning experiences. Others - like plans to remove ratio requirements for out-of-hours care for children as young as four, and to remove the need for agency-registered childminders to be inspected by Ofsted - have serious safety and safeguarding implications.

"Add to this the fact that the free entitlement schemes for two-, three- and four-year-olds remain significantly underfunded, and you have a sector that is being stretched to its limits.

"The current situation is simply unsustainable. The Government must start listening to these concerns and rethink its approach to childcare reform. When a whole sector of professionals is telling you that your proposals are misguided, it's time to go back to the drawing board."

A Government spokeswoman said this was a "self-selecting survey" which was based on a "relatively small number of providers".

She said: "It does not include the many school nurseries that already provide almost a third of childcare places. Recent figures show that the cost of childcare in England is falling for the first time in 12 years, while continuing to rise in Scotland and Wales."

She added: " We have done more than any previous government to help parents with the costs of childcare, including giving every three and four year-old access to 15 hours of free early education a week, and extending this to 260,000 two year-olds from low-income families.

"Indeed far from being underfunded, 500 more providers have joined the programme in the last year alone.

"We have also introduced tax free childcare for almost two million families so working parents with children under 12 can save up to £2,000 per child per year from 2015."