Childcare expansion

A child’s earliest years are their foundation; if we give them a great start, they have a much better chance of fulfilling their potential as they grow up. 

By the time disadvantaged young people sit their GCSEs at age 16, they are, on average, 18.4 months behind their peers – and around 40 per cent of that gap has emerged by age five. 

Pre-school has almost as much impact on a child’s educational achievement at age 11 as primary school, and the impact is even greater for those who may develop learning difficulties.

High-quality early years provision can generate sustained and significant improvements in children’s outcomes, reducing disparities in later life. 

Not only does good quality provision have a positive impact on children’s development, but it also ensures that parents and carers can feel confident to access childcare. 

Securing enough high-quality childcare for families and carers to get the places they need is something into which we need to invest our time and energy.

Children are part of families, who are part of communities, who are part of society. It is essential that services for families of young children are well connected to services for adults, and the early years agenda can significantly support wider council aims. 

This includes health, safeguarding, and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Furthermore, ensuring that there is sufficient early years education and childcare can support families into employment and lift them out of poverty. 

Council responsibilities 

The council must secure ‘early childhood services’ for the benefit of parents, prospective parents and young children, taking ‘reasonable steps’ to involve parents, early years providers and other relevant people in those arrangements. 

They must also consider the quantity and quality of services, and where in the area they are provided, and consider the views of young children where possible.

Councils must also ensure enough childcare is available for every eligible child to access their funded early years entitlements for childcare. 

They should also work to identify parents in the area who might not take advantage of early childhood services that could benefit them and their children, and encourage them to take these up.

Councils have the responsibility for passing through the entitlement funding for places, calculated by central government, to early years providers. In some places, local authorities have direct responsibility for maintained nursery schools or nursery classes.

Expansion of early years education and childcare 

There is a range of support available for childcare, with specific support for working and disadvantaged families. 

Currently, two-year-old children of families entitled to certain benefits can access 15 hours of funding per week, and all three to four-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of funded early education or childcare per year from the term after their third birthday. 

This is usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, or traditional school term-time. For working parents, this increases to 30 hours per week. 

There are no plans to change this funded entitlement. 

In March 2023, the Chancellor announced an expansion to the existing early years entitlements:

From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds can access 15 hours per week.

From September 2024, working parents of children aged nine months up to three years can access 15 hours per week.

From September 2025, working parents of children aged nine months up to three years can access 30 hours per week.

The recent expansion is the largest change to early years education and childcare since 2017 and, therefore, it is a large ask for councils to implement this policy, support providers to expand and maintain quality support, and ensure sufficiency of childcare locally. 

Challenges in the early years education and childcare system 

Given the announcements in the 2023 Spring Budget, it is more important than ever that we get the early years system right. 

Last year, the LGA published a report, ‘‘Early education and childcare: changes and challenges for the future’, which highlighted concerns from local authorities and set out what local government needs to implement the childcare reforms effectively.

Of particular concern to councils is the lack of powers and levers to manage the market effectively, despite having the statutory duty to ensure sufficient childcare. 

This is coupled with broader financial pressures across councils that are impacting wider support services. 

Many councils pass through more than the minimum 95 per cent of funding that they receive for early years entitlements to providers, to ensure they have sufficient funding.

With these increased financial pressures, however, some local authorities are concerned that they may have to start retaining more to be able to support providers most effectively. 

Meanwhile, recruitment and retention across early years provision continues to be a significant challenge. 

Many local areas are working closely with providers to build the workforce. This includes producing local campaigns, building toolkits for providers to use, and working with local training providers and further education colleges to support more people into the workforce. The Government has launched a national campaign looking at supporting more people into the early years and childcare workforce. 

Wraparound childcare 

The 2023 Budget also announced a programme of investment into wraparound childcare for primary-aged children during term time. 

This was supported by £289 million to help local areas trial different ways of working and pump-prime different models to ensure universal rollout by 2025. 

The Childcare Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities to make sure there are enough childcare places within its local area for working parents, or for parents who are studying or training for employment, for children aged 0 to 14 (or up to 18 for disabled children). Therefore, local authorities are responsible for the delivery of the national wraparound childcare programme. 

Many local authorities effectively support the local market to ensure there is sufficient wraparound childcare, but we are also aware that there are some significant challenges facing councils in this delivery. 

The LGA-commissioned ‘Insights into wraparound childcare’ explores this further and outlines some local areas of good practice‘.  

Further information 

To support councillors in understanding their councils’ responsibilities for early years education and childcare, the LGA has produced a resource pack outlining different responsibilities, and highlighting some useful areas to explore. 

The LGA is funded by the Department for Education to provide a package of support to strengthen local systems for early years speech, language and communication pathways, with a particular focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. 

We have a series of case studies that explore good practice, and we develop resources and undertake activities to support political and corporate leaders.  


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