15/06/2015 10:35 BST | Updated 12/06/2016 06:59 BST

Doubling Free Childcare - But at What Cost?

The Government has costed the doubling of free childcare from 15 hours to 30 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds at £350 million a year. Meanwhile, experts within the sector suggest the real costs to Childcare providers at more like at £1.5billion a year- so who's right?

Thankfully there's going to be a review of funding for the free entitlement by a taskforce commissioned to deliver on the plans for 30 hours of childcare for working parents of three-and four-year-olds.

The Prime Minister recently announced that the scheme would be piloted from September 2016, a year earlier than the Conservatives' pre-election pledge.

We at Grub4life have some concerns though, extra free childcare is of course "great news"- providing it's properly costed, providers are not disadvantaged and children receiving the free education don't end up feeling like second class citizens.

Neil Leitch from the Pre School Learning Alliance said, ""We warmly welcome the news that the government will be launching a formal review into childcare funding rates this year. We have long warned that the existing schemes are significantly underfunded, leaving providers and parents to make up the shortfall. As such, it is very positive to see that the Department for Education is listening to the concerns raised by the Alliance and its members, and is now recognising that inadequate free entitlement funding is a serious problem that must be addressed as a priority.

"That said, as with all things, the devil is in the detail. It is vital that this review is full, thorough and genuinely takes the views and experiences of early years providers into account. Given that the childcare extension plans have been costed at just £350m a year - a figure that our research suggests is around a quarter of what is actually needed - we are concerned that the government is still significantly underestimating the scale of the existing funding shortfall.

"Simply raising funding rates by an arbitrary amount won't be enough -- it is absolutely crucial that the government ensures that the hourly rate of funding actually covers the cost of delivering funded places. Anything less risks destabilising a childcare system that is already struggling to stay afloat. What's more, there are many practical considerations that must be addressed before the extension comes into effect, such as the restrictions many settings face in terms of capacity and use of premises, and how this will impact on their ability to offer 30 hours of funded provision to eligible families.

We agree with Pre School Learning Alliance and ask a number of basic questions: -

  • Will there be any consideration of regional variation in property costs?
  • Will the allocation account for additional staff costs- what level of qualification will be included in any additional staffing allocations?
  • Is food included in the costs? A child attending nursery for just two hours will be served at least a drink and snack- who is paying for this?

Many childcare providers already have first-hand knowledge of disparities between costs and renumeration for 15 hours free child care- what are your worries about the next phase?

As parents- would you be willing to contribute towards the 30 hour provision to make up any short fall?

We want to hear from you- whether you're an Early Years provider or parent- let us know your experience of Free Early Years education and your thoughts about the plans to increase the provision. Let us know your concerns at feedback@grub4life.com and I'll report back.