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Childcare: Early Years Funding

Volume 777: debated on Monday 5 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning to conduct an annual review of early years childcare funding to ensure sustainability and quality.

My Lords, there are no plans to conduct a formal annual review. The Government are committed to providing high-quality early education for all children. We are investing an additional £1 billion a year in the early years free entitlements and last week we published the early years national funding formula, which ensures that this funding is allocated fairly and transparently. We will monitor the implementation of the 30 hours of childcare, and are clear that getting the funding right is critical to its successful delivery.

I thank the Minister for his reply, for the extension of 30 hours’ free childcare to working parents and for the funding thereof. Given the huge benefits to education and cognitive skills that high-quality early years childcare and education bring—they are so important to business and industry, to physical and mental health in adulthood, to remediating poverty and disadvantage for children, including looked-after children, and to productivity—will the Minister listen very carefully to the concerns of the sector that after this year the funding may not be sufficient? His Answer was reassuring to some extent. We should consider that investing in the highest-quality early-years care and education is essential to an infrastructure for successful economic development.

My Lords, I could not agree more, and that is why we are spending more than £6 billion a year by 2019-20 on early years education and childcare—more than any other Government in this country ever. We know that we need to get the funding right. Our announcement last week of a £4.30 minimum funding rate for local authorities, paid for with additional investment, shows that we are listening to the sector. The cost of childcare review was very thorough—indeed, the National Audit Office said that it was “thorough and wide-ranging”.

My Lords, I declare a sort of interest as a relatively new grandfather to Sienna—my daughter-in-law has just gone back to work and I know the costs of childcare and how it affects young couples today. Will my noble friend update the House on the progress of our manifesto commitment to 30 hours of childcare for working parents?

Yes. I am sure my noble friend will be pleased to hear that we are making good progress. Last week, we confirmed our funding, as I said. We have already put in place legislation, through the Childcare Act 2016, with regulations being laid early last month. We have also awarded a new delivery contract worth £3 million to Childcare Works to support local authorities, and our eight early implementers which are implementing a year early have already delivered more than 3,500 new childcare places.

My Lords, following what the noble Earl said, the Family and Childcare Trust argued that the new funding, welcome as it is, does not focus sufficiently on improving quality of provision in the settings most likely used for disadvantaged children who particularly need quality care. What are the Government doing to improve quality of care in such settings to ensure that disadvantaged children get that quality provision?

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of ensuring high quality. Our entire focus is on that, particularly for children with SEND. An additional needs element is factored into the early years funding formula to better target funding towards local authorities with a higher relative proportion of children with additional needs, and our final funding policy confirmed last week includes a new disability access fund worth £615 per child per year to support disabled three and four year-olds, and a requirement for all local authorities to have inclusion funds to channel additional support to children with SEND.

My Lords, given that supplying appropriate childcare for children with additional needs is more expensive for the setting itself, and it is also more expensive to train people to be able to recognise children’s special needs and deliver appropriate care, what are the Government doing to make sure that sufficient early years practitioners are being trained to work with these particularly needy children whose needs have been ignored from many, many years?

We are focused on that. As the noble Baroness will know, we have a massive investment in this area, and on improving the quality of people coming into the profession. In terms of specific details on this, I will write to her.

My Lords, it is widely accepted that investment in early years childcare is one of the most effective means of increasing social mobility, which the Government say is one of their aims. In July 2015, the then Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah announced a consultation on Sure Start centres that was to begin that autumn. We are still waiting for that consultation. Indeed, two weeks ago his successor Caroline Dinenage could only say in a waffling Parliamentary Answer that an announcement would be made “in due course”. The Minister has been there throughout that period. Is he not embarrassed about having to defend a Government who have been reneging on a commitment that is so important for the future of children’s centres?

I know that the party opposite always raises this point. An independent study made it quite clear that the number of people accessing these centres has remained remarkably consistent over the last few years, even though a number have merged and indeed, a number have closed. The important point is their quality and location. I refer back to the point that no Government in history have ever invested as much in early years and childcare as this one.