Childcare Reforms - The MJ

Early years policy has been a focus for all recent governments, however, improving the life chances of children must be at the heart of any early years policy, over and above increasing the number of parents in work. The greatest opportunities to make a tangible difference to a child’s prospects occur when they are very young, in the first 1001 days of life. Access to early education and high-quality childcare during this time can have a real impact on children’s outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. It plays a crucial role in reducing the outcomes gap between the most and least disadvantaged children.

Local authorities have worked closely with providers to deliver the current 30 hours ‘free’ childcare for working families of three and four year olds, yet funding is insufficient to meet actual costs with settings having to pass additional charges and costs on to parents to make up the shortfall. Moreover, many of the most in need households are not eligible for support, yet children of parents who earn a combined income of up to £199,000 per year can benefit from this policy. ADCS believes help with childcare should be targeted at the most socially and economically disadvantaged families. Reducing the income threshold would helpfully narrow the policy to focus on these families, and any funding saved could be reinvested to help the early years sector recruit, and retain, the high-quality workforce they urgently need.

In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced an extension of the 30 hours offer and increased funding rates for children from nine months of age, which is good news for families who are struggling with the cost of childcare. However, despite the Department for Education’s expectation to invest £4.1bn by 2027/28 to deliver the offer, early years providers are reporting that this funding will still not cover their costs. The Education Select Committee’s recent report on childcare reforms was clear that simply extending the number of funded hours won’t have the desired impact unless funding accurately reflects the costs to providers.

A lack of sufficient funding is not the only thing the sector is struggling with. Early years providers are also still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Financial impacts have led to closures and staffing issues. Early years workers have had to adapt to the needs of children whose development has been impacted by pandemic restrictions, including effects on their confidence, gross motor skills, communication and language development. Providers are also dealing with rapidly growing costs due to the cost of living crisis and severe workforce challenges, with a significant proportion of the workforce choosing to leave for better paid roles in retail.

Nothing is more important than improving children’s life chances and the best chance we have to do this is in the early years of children’s lives. The government would be wise not to overlook the value of the early years sector, who work incredibly hard to support our youngest children.

Andy Smith, ADCS Vice President 2023/24

This article first appeared in the MJ on 26 August - Maximising early years’ potential (

Tags assigned to this article:

Related Articles