Over the past couple of months the Labour party has been making much of its primary childcare guarantee. Under this guarantee, if Labour wins the General Election all parents of primary school-aged children would have a legal right to access high quality wraparound care for their children.
We were keen to find out more about this plan, so that we could evaluate how it would affect existing providers of out of school care, and how it would affect the market for such care in the future. In particular we wanted to know: whether schools would be compelled to provide the wraparound care themselves, or whether they could use third party providers as currently; who the childcare guarantee would be 'legally binding' on; and how any club could be expected to provide childcare for all parents that requested it when all settings are constrained by space and staffing.
Accordingly, we sent a series of questions to the Labour childcare minister, Alison McGovern, and this week (25 Feb 2015) she sent us her reply which we have reproduced in full below.
"Thank you very much for your email regarding the wrap-around childcare proposals and for your questions on the policy, which I shall seek to respond to below. I very much believe that extending the school day for those parents who want it can make a real difference to helping parents get back into work, tackle child poverty and improve family finances. I want to ensure that wrap-around care is straightforward to access, widely available and high quality – I am also determined that it should not represent simply an extension of the formal part of the school day, but should be an opportunity for pupils to undertake a wide range of stimulating and empowering activities, which might not otherwise be available during the school day. To achieve this, we will need to enlist the talents and capacities of the full range of childcare providers, including the private, voluntary and school-based sectors.
To respond to your questions, though I also want to emphasise that, if elected, we will be undertaking a full consultation on the proposals and the necessary legislative changes:
- Schools will absolutely continue to retain the freedom to choose whether to offer wrap-around care in-house or via third parties – or a mixture of the two. I know that many schools who already offer wrap-around care have entered into extremely successful and productive partnerships with third-party providers, including many of your members, ensuring high-quality care is available. We want to ensure that such partnerships can continue to exist and succeed and give all schools that do not currently offer wrap-around care the opportunity to enter into partnerships of this kind. Not only is this a proven route for delivering wrap-around care, but we are very much aware that for many schools, delivering extended hours in-house would simply not be logistically possible, meaning that your members’ participation is not only welcome but, I believe, essential to the success of this policy.
- Schools will indeed be legally required to provide wrap-around care, whether themselves or through a third party, for any parent who requests it. We will be consulting with schools and others on appropriate sanctions for any schools that do not engage with this, but I have no expectation that sanctions would need to be applied with any frequency – I know that the overwhelming majority of primary schools are very much aware of the value of wrap-around care and will be keen to work constructively to make such an offer if they do not do so already. I am keen to look at ways in which schools can come together to make the offer work, including smaller schools developing partnerships with each other to make wrap-around offers sustainable. I would also want to see local authorities playing a role in overseeing and helping to develop the wrap-around offer.
- I anticipate that the offer will be legally binding on individual schools, but the exact nature of this will be subject to consultation.
- I am very much cognisant of the constraints of staffing and space and how this impacts on the ability of schools to offer wrap-around care. For that reason, there is no plan to introduce the guarantee ‘overnight’, but over a timescale decided in consultation with schools, childcare providers, local authorities and others. We intend to work to a timescale that allows schools to undertake projections of the likely demand for wrap-around care and put together sustainable and achievable plans to deliver on the guarantee. I am keen to look at the experience of schools already offering wrap-around childcare, but my understanding is that once such offers are in place, the numbers of parents taking advantage of the offer has not generally been subject to dramatic fluctuations, hopefully meaning that schools and other providers will be able to make plans on a reasonably long-term footing. Again, this is something I’d be happy to look at in more detail with schools and providers."
In our opinion these proposals are not very different from those of previous the Labour administration, or those of the current government; the most significant difference is that schools will be legally obliged to offer some form of wraparound care, rather than being merely encouraged to. We welcome the emphasis that Ms McGovern is placing on there being a thorough consultation process before any of the changes are implemented.