Not all primary schools will be expected to provide “wraparound childcare” under a new government push to help get parents back to work.
But new guidance published today states schools will be “central” to delivery of the programme and expected to signpost parents to available local provision.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined an “ambition” last year for primary schools to provide childcare, with £289 million funding to implement the scheme.
New guidance published today sets out more details of how the scheme will work. While it is aimed primarily at councils – which will get the funding and oversee rollout of the scheme – there’s lots of information relevant to schools.
So here’s your trusty Schools Week explainer.
What has been promised?
The guidance sets out an “ambition” that by 2026 “all parents and carers of primary school-aged children who need it will be able to access term time childcare in their local area from 8am-6pm”.
Around 60 percent of primary schools across England currently offer wraparound care, both before and after school.
In the March budget, Hunt outlined £289 million in “start up” funding – over two academic years – to deliver the ambition.
What does ‘wraparound’ mean?
Government describes “wraparound” childcare as provision directly before and after the conventional school day hours, in term time.
It can be offered by schools and private or voluntary providers, and can be run on a school site or at another setting in the area.
School examples given are breakfast and after school clubs, however officials note it is different to “out-of-school activities or school clubs which are less frequent and can be a one-off activity”.
BUT, any provision should not require parents to pick their children up from school and drop them off at another location.
Schools ‘central’ to the programme …
Guidance says schools are “central to the delivery of the programme as they operate at the heart of the community, understand the needs of local families, and are usually the first port of call for parents for wraparound childcare”.
Provision should be set up “around the needs of schools”, as it will take place directly before and after school hours.
Government expect that the majority of parents will access childcare either through provision on a school site (although this may be run by a private provider) or through schools signposting them to other providers.
… but not all will provide childcare
Hunt said his ambition was for all primary schools to provide childcare. But the guidance makes clear “not all schools will provide wraparound childcare directly”, for instance if it’s not financially viable.
But either way, schools are at the least expected to work with councils to ensure parents are signposted to appropriate provision.
This includes local authorities supporting schools to “understand the availability of wraparound childcare in their area”, including providing a list of all local providers.
The specific expectations on *all* schools are:
- Respond to communities’ needs for wraparound childcare – which government says is already an existing expectation.
- Report to their council any childcare requests from parents they cannot meet.
- Communicate wraparound option to parents, including signposting accessible local provision.
Encourage expansion, engage with trusts
After funding allocations this month, councils are expected to start working with schools and other providers to set up new or scale up existing provision.
But councils have been told to “in particular .. engage closely with schools and providers who are already delivering wraparound childcare, to explore their potential to expand, either in terms of hours or in terms of places available”.
Councils should also “harness the ability” of those involved in the holiday activities and food programme to support the childcare scheme.
Local authorities will need to “ensure they are engaging with school trusts that operate in their area and consider the specific role that they could play in setting up provision across several schools”.
This may involve councils engaging with each other where trusts span several areas.
Trusts are told to “determine roles and responsibilities in relation to the wraparound programme” and “work closely with local authorities and other providers of wraparound to meet local need”.
Guidance for schools due in January
Government has released a timeline – here are key dates for schools
October 2023: government will announce capacity funding allocations
November 2023: councils expected to start planning and preparation for rollout of national programme
January 2024: guidance for schools published
April/May 2024: some local areas supported to roll out the programme earlier
June 2024: deadline for local authorities to submit delivery plan for programme funding
September 2024: programme launch nationwide
End of March 2026: funding for programme ends
How was the funding worked out?
Officials used school census data on the availability of childcare in primary schools as a proxy to estimate a current “gap” in provision.
Funding allocations are proportionate to the number of primary schools in each council that do not have any childcare, to ensure its “tilted towards the areas where there is greatest need”.
Although schools are used as a proxy to determine need, it doesn’t mean councils have to fund provision at those specific schools.
Councils can decide where to prioritise the cash. Funding is tapered with more cash in the 2024-25 financial year than in 2025-26.
What can schools spend the cash on?
The funding will help councils build their own capacity to run the scheme, but most will go to providers to set up or expand provision.
Funding can be used to cover costs including staffing, training and transport such as minibus hire – as well as contributing to running costs while demand builds.
Capacity funding of £100 million, which will be provided to councils separately, can be used by providers to “establish inclusive spaces and buy inclusive equipment and resources”.
Cash cannot be used for subsiding the cost of places, which should be paid by parents.
What happens when funding runs out?
As Schools Week reported, schools will be expected to charge parents for places – and the aim is that from 2026 onwards (when funding runs out), the “substantial majority of new/expanded provision” will be “self-sustaining”.
Another aim of the programme is to test out the best ways of providing childcare, which guidance adds “inevitably involves some financial risk”.
“We accept that it will not be possible for 100% of new or expanded provision to prove sustainable: the programme is designed to test new models of provision and generate additional demand where it is not currently guaranteed, including through over-supplying places to test if this helps to build demand”.
What about special schools?
Guidance says that all schools should be factored into council calculations on where there is a need for new provision, although they “understand” traditional models “may not be feasible outside of mainstream settings” given additional staff requirements and potential cost implications.
But where demand is identified, councils should work with specialist schools to establish provision “where possible”.