This Government have transformed the provision of early years education and childcare in this country, increasing investment sevenfold since 1997 and creating a universal free offer for three and four-year-olds.
As a result there is now nearly universal take-up of the 12½ hours of free early learning and childcare available to three and four-year-olds, and we remain on course to extend the provision to 15 hours per week from September 2010. The commitment and endeavour of early years providers across the country have been crucial to this success.
In 2007 we announced plans to introduce a single local Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF).
This aims to provide greater consistency and transparency in local decision-making concerning the funding of the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds.
The necessary paving legislation for the EYSFF was included in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which has recently completed its passage through Parliament. The introduction of the EYSFF was welcomed by Members on all sides of both Houses.
Our intention has been that every local authority should implement the EYSFF from April 2010. In anticipation of this many local authorities have been working hard to prepare for this and have engaged positively with local providers.
However, during the summer it became clear that a significant number of local authorities were experiencing difficulty in developing their EYSFF. More recently, parents and providers, from both the maintained and the PVI sectors, have expressed concerns about the potential adverse impact on provision if the EYSFF is introduced now.
In response to these concerns the Department acted quickly to survey all local authorities, to establish how much progress they had made. This was completed towards the end of November and found considerable variation in terms of their readiness.
The data and information we have collected now suggests that less than a third of local authorities will be in a secure position to implement their EYSFF from April 2010. While it is difficult to generalise about the underlying reasons it seems clear that some local authorities have experienced serious difficulties in obtaining accurate data from their providers, while others have simply found the task extremely challenging.
I have therefore decided to postpone the formal implementation date for the EYSFF by one year until April 2011.
I have asked my officials to invite all local authorities that are confident they are ready to implement their new formulae in April 2010 and who wish to do so to continue as planned. These local authorities will be able to apply to join a pathfinder programme, which currently involves nine local authorities but which we will now expand.
This expansion will increase the capacity of the pathfinder programme to develop practice from which other local authorities can learn.
The Government remain strongly committed to the introduction of the EYSFF in all areas from April 2011. We believe that it is only through the effective implementation of the EYSFF that all providers across the sector can have confidence in local decisions about funding. This 12-month delay should provide sufficient time for concerns to be addressed, without incurring a risk of drift. It will also allow time for more dedicated support to be offered to those local authorities that need it in order to complete the development of their formula.