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Election Childcare

Election Childcare Promises: What’s at Stake?


As the political parties unveil their early education and childcare pledges in the lead-up to the next general election, Nursery In a Box looks at what’s being promised – and what’s missing from the proposals.
Labour’s plans to create a ‘modern childcare system’ that supports parents from the ‘end of parental leave to the end of primary school’ were announced recently, with a pledge to convert 3,300 classrooms into school-based nurseries, creating an additional 100,000 childcare places.

The early year’s sector has criticised the lack of more detail regarding the workforce strategy that underpins the reform plan, the suitability of classrooms for babies, and concerns about the duplication and displacement of existing provisions.

With falling birth rates and empty classrooms, schools are increasingly looking at ways to ensure a steady pipeline of children entering the system. Labour’s plan, if elected, is to use the surplus space by refurbishing the classrooms at an average cost of £40,000 per school, funded by revenue raised from VAT levied on private schools.

The provision, to be delivered ‘by primary schools themselves, or by local private or voluntary sector nursery providers, ’ would accommodate babies from nine months up to school age and would help meet the anticipated additional demand from the expansion of the funded hours, which Labour has committed to delivering.

Areas where there is a severe shortage of childcare provision, known as ‘childcare deserts’, would be targeted first, a move which the party says ‘will enable more parents to work’ and be ‘key to delivering Labour’s mission for half a million more children to hit the early learning goals by 2030’.

However, despite providing cost estimates for individual classroom refurbishments, the sector has criticised Labour’s lack of detail around the workforce strategy, which is the key to the plan’s success.

Posting on LinkedIn, Rachel Carrell, the chief executive of childcare agency Koru Kids, said, ‘Where will [the staff] come from and who will pay for them? Labour needs to come up with the other half of the plan.’ She added that nursery owners are ‘up in arms’ about Labour’s plan. ‘Many are arguing that putting nine-month-olds in schools is wrong. I don’t know about that. I think it can be done well. But the devil is in the detail… If we have 100,000 new spaces with a ratio of 1:3, that’s 33,000 new staff… The bill just for staff will be over £1bn per year,’ she said.

Posting on X, Early Years Equality, which brings childcare providers together to collectively campaign for better funding to save further settings from closure and to ensure the sector’s voices are better heard by the Government long-term, said, ‘This is a terrible plan which is cowardly and bows down to the loud shouting of those who put women’s rights before the rights of children…I can see a mass exodus of even more providers. This will feel like the final straw.’

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) highlighted a need to ensure spaces in school-based nurseries are ‘suitable and age-appropriate’ environments for younger children. Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said that ‘any plans should be made in consultation with communities to ensure they meet the needs of local families and do not duplicate or displace existing high-quality provision. Threatening the sustainability of existing preschools and nurseries will not help children or families’.

The mechanics of how this expansion would be delivered are unclear. Questions remain around logistics, funding, workforce strategy, and the vital need to ensure high-quality provision. On what basis would it be a mixture of school-based and PVI provision? Will there be terms and conditions around the funding? Will childcare be year-round, term-time only, or during school hours only?

School-based and PVI provisions are entirely different models. Teachers’ pay and conditions are different from those of nursery workers, and there may be capital costs to consider, along with premise costs. There are also infrastructure implications—babies and toddlers need lots of space to move around, including appropriate outdoor space, changing facilities, and quiet space for sleeping. They also need staff knowledgeable about this age group and experienced at working with them.

Charity Early Education said, ‘There are currently over 16,000 primary schools in England, all of which have reception classes. At least 7,500 have a nursery class as part of the school which teachers lead. Another 900 have what is called governor-led-provision where the school governors run the nursery as a separate entity, allowing them to operate on the same staffing model as private and voluntary sector nurseries, led by a staff member with only a Level 3 early years educator qualification, and without a requirement to employ teachers. There will be other primary schools with a nursery onsite run by a private or voluntary provider that is not under the school’s direct control.

‘The Labour proposal appears to allow for any of these options. It is unclear whether it will only be for schools without nursery provision or would allow schools with nurseries to extend their provision, for instance, to create a space for two-year-olds,’ the spokesperson added. Labour has commissioned Sir David Bell, the former head of Ofsted, to lead a review of the government’s childcare plans, which has yet to be published.

Liberal Democrats
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto, contains a career strategy for nursery staff and a review of funding rates.

Among its highlights include:
• A review of the rates paid to providers for ‘free’ hours to ensure the amount they receive covers their actual costs.
• Focus on identifying and supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities in the new training programme for early years staff.
• A training programme in which the majority of those working with children aged two to four would have an early year’s qualification or be working towards one.
• Investment in high-quality early years education to close the attainment gap by giving disadvantaged children aged three and four an extra five free hours a week and tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 a year.
• Reform Ofsted inspections and end single-word judgements.
• Restore childminding as a valued part of the early years system by replacing the three current registration processes with a single childcare register.

Conservative Manifesto
The Conservative Party launched its manifesto, confirming the planned rollout of the early entitlement expansion. Eligible parents of nine-month-olds will receive 15 hours of childcare from September 2024 and 30 hours from September 2025.
The manifesto highlights the party’s commitment to ‘increasing hourly funding rates over the next two years by an estimated £500 million’, helping recruitment, and providing extra places.
Green Party
The Green Party will publish its General Election manifesto on 12 June. The party has previously committed to free universal childcare.

No more empty promises
Nursery In a Box works with 500 nurseries, providing them with software solutions for their growing businesses. What they see on the ground is a sector gripped in fear. ‘Settings are delivering the very best early education and care for their children under challenging circumstances, often unable to recruit quality staff or retain them due to minimal pay. The government controls its delivery model – from what it pays staff to the income it receives after the funded hours.

Our children’s future is at stake. The next elected Government must prioritize their needs and deliver more than empty promises,” a Nursery In a Box spokesperson urgently stated.

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