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Childcare: Parental Access

Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

High-quality childcare supports children’s development and helps parents to work, and we are therefore continuing to bulk-buy childcare hours from the sector at pre-covid levels, even if providers had closed due to the pandemic. Some 708,000 children attended an early years setting on 1 October, which is an increase of about 300,000 compared with the end of the summer term. We have also encouraged schools to ensure that after-school and breakfast clubs are reopening.

Many residents in Hyndburn and Haslingden have contacted me regarding our manifesto commitment to delivering a £1 billion flexible childcare fund to support parents and children with holiday and wraparound care. What progress is being made on delivering on that promise?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important question. We know that families want to be able to access affordable out-of-school childcare, and that is particularly important during the school summer holidays, so our manifesto commitment is to establish a new £1 billion fund from next year to help to create more accessible childcare, including before school, after school and in the summer school holidays. As with all future commitments, this is dependent on the outcome of the spending review, and I hope to be able to update the House with further details following the spending review.

Nurseries in west Berkshire suffered a loss of fee income during the lockdown, and they are now anxious about a reduction in parental demand. They are grateful for the guaranteed funding until the end of this year, but what assessment has my hon. Friend made of the recovery of parental demand, and what assurances can she give the sector for the rest of the academic year?

May I start by thanking childcare providers in west Berkshire and across the country for providing such essential support for our very youngest children? This term, we have committed to block buying those hours from providers, provided that they are open, regardless of how many children are attending, and local authorities should pass that funding on. We are obviously looking closely at the situation from next term, and the future funding will be dependent on the funding review, but the really good news is that attendance is increasing and, on 1 October, the numbers showed that it was about 80% of the pre-covid usual daily level of attendance.

Data from Ofsted shows that the number of nurseries and other childcare providers with coronavirus cases has, on average, been doubling every week since the start of September, yet many early years workers cannot access covid tests or get quick results, which is forcing them to stay at home. I have heard from a nursery in Surrey that has been forced to close as a result, affecting 40 children and depriving their parents of childcare. Will the Minister confirm whether childcare workers still qualify for priority testing? If so, why are they not getting it?

Yes, I can absolutely confirm that education and childcare workers, including those in the early years, are essential workers and have priority access, via the online booking portal. That has been the case since April.