In the last six months, ministerial colleagues and I have held a number of meetings with representatives of private, voluntary and independent childcare providers. These meetings have been opportunities to celebrate the progress that we are making together towards the delivery of our 10-year childcare strategy commitments and to discuss issues of concern. Ministers and officials have also received a range of correspondence from providers including on the code of practice.
Some private sector providers have suggested that the funding they receive from local authorities to fund delivery of the free entitlement does not cover their costs and expressed concern that, in their view, the code of practice prevents, for the first time, the charging of “top-up fees” for hours covered by the free entitlement. In responding, we have been clear that we believe the £3 billion per year that the Government put into early years through the dedicated schools grant is sufficient to fund the free entitlement and that local authorities have discretion over the use they make of funding from the DSG including the rates at which they fund early education in all types of setting. They are encouraged to fund early years provision equitably across settings in accordance with local circumstances. We have also emphasised that the position on ‘top-up’ fees has not changed and that previous iterations of the code of practice have made this clear. The Government remain committed to a universal free early learning entitlement that benefits all children regardless of their parents' income or ability to pay.
We conducted a full public consultation on the 2006 code of practice from June to October 2005, to which 585 responses were received; the majority were from private providers who were generally content with the proposed extension to 38 weeks. None expressed concern about the requirement to ensure that the entitlement is entirely free at the point of delivery. A summary of the responses is available at:
Since the Code of Practice came into force in April, ministerial colleagues and I have received a number of representations about the details of arrangements for increasing the free entitlement from 33 to 38 weeks and about “top up fees”, which some providers wrongly believe the Code of Practice ruled out for the first time.
The single substantive change to the delivery of the free early education entitlement set out in the 2006 Code of Practice was its extension from 33 to 38 weeks. Following the consultation we made clear our recognition that not all providers would be able to extend their provision to 38 weeks and that, at the relevant local authority’s discretion, they could be funded for the provision they actually delivered. In addition, all local authorities have received additional funding to support the extension to the free entitlement to 38 weeks.
The Code of Practice simply restated the existing position on “top up fees”: that the entitlement should be free at the point of delivery and that providers should not add any additional charges for the hours covered by free entitlement funding.
The entitlement is, and must remain free at the point of delivery. This principle is not new, and has been made clear in successive versions of the relevant Code of Practice since 2003. The 2006 Code simply sets it out again explicitly. It confirms that parents should not be required to pay any fee for the free entitlement, either directly or indirectly as a condition of accessing the free place.
All local authorities are delivering the free early education entitlement in accordance with the code of practice on the provision of free nursery education places for three and four-year-olds, which will remain in force until 2008-09. The following 20 Pathfinder local authorities have been selected to pilot the roll-out of the extended free entitlement to 15 hours in a more flexible way from April 2007.
Telford and Wrekin