Conservatives pledge more free childcare but funding shortfall looms

Conservatives pledge more free childcare but funding shortfall looms

Concerns over a funding shortfall for early years providers have been raised after the Conservatives announced today they would extend free childcare to 30 hours a week.

David Cameron promised to double the free childcare for working families with three and four-year-olds at the Conservative manifesto launch today.

But the pledge has been questioned by the Pre-School Learning Alliance over concerns of a funding shortfall.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said: “Given that only a few months ago, we were told that it was ‘nonsense’ to suggest that the early years sector is underfunded, we warmly welcome the commitment to raise local funding rates.

While this is clearly an attractive pre-election pledge, it must be adequately costed if it is to succeed in the long-term.

“That said, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to commit to doubling the free entitlement offer before consulting with providers to find out the size of the current funding shortfall. While this is clearly an attractive pre-election pledge, it must be adequately costed if it is to succeed in the long-term.”

It is understood the Conservatives would increase the hourly funding rates paid to providers and will consult on the appropriate level and design of the uplift. ToryManifestoChidlcare

Mr Cameron said: “A good life should mean that raising your family feels like an incredible and joyful … journey, but it shouldn’t be a permanent struggle with the bills. That’s why our second commitment to working people is on childcare.”

He said it will save families the equivalent of £5,000 a year.

Schools Week understands the additional 15 hours of free childcare will be available only for working parents in both single and double parent households where both parents are working.

Parents will be considered to be working if they earn the equivalent of working eight hours a week on the minimum wage, currently £32.50. It is expected to apply to 630,000 children, on top of the 1.3m already claiming the universal free 15 hours of childcare.

The £350m cost of the policy, which will be brought in in 2017 if the Tories form a government, will be met through curbing pension relief for higher earners, which was announced on Sunday and is expected to save £1.4bn.

It follows the childcare minister Sam Gyimah announcing last year that school-led nurseries are at the heart of government plans.

He said he wanted schools to “consider teaming up with private, voluntary and independent nurseries, sharing the best ways to work between themselves”.

Under current rules, nurseries in maintained schools for children aged 3 or more must have at least one member of staff for every 13 children. And at least one staff member must hold a relevant level 6 qualification – equivalent to postgraduate certification.

Schools Week reporter Freddie Whittaker at the launch today:

By contrast, private and voluntary nurseries have a stricter ration of one member of staff to every eight children, but the lead staff member only need hold a relevant level 3 qualification.

Labour pledged to give working parents 25 hours of free childcare a week at its manifesto launch yesterday.

The full Conservative manifesto can be viewed here.