One month on from the spring budget statement
On 15th March 2023, Jeremy Hunt MP announced in his Spring Budget a pledge to invest £289 million over two years from September 2024, to enable Local Authorities to encourage the development and extension of school based wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm. This policy commitment is one that seeks to address availability rather than affordability of school aged childcare in England. An aligned move to remove the Universal Credit claim cap and uplift the amount paid by the Childcare element of Universal Credit is seen as sufficient measures to support the affordability challenge for families.
At the Out of School Alliance, we reacted quickly issuing a press release which was picked up in a number of media outlets. Rebekah Jackson Reece, Managing Director of OOSA, met with Department for Education for comment and consultation within 48 hours of the announcement being made by HM Treasury. As a result of a two hour discussion with the DfE team, Rebekah has been invited to sit on the Wraparound Policy Steering group set up to support the development and roll out of this policy commitment. The group is tight, with just 6 representatives including primary school leads, Local Government Association, Local Authorities, OOSA and another representative from the sector. The group will meet regularly to support and challenge DfE as they shape and deliver this policy.
What we now know, a month on from the announcement is that in advance of the national roll out of this funding to Local Authorities, there will be a Pathfinder programme which will work with trailblazer local authorities to test and establish ways of achieving this ambition and develop their understanding of the challenges of supply and demand in this sector. As we understand it now, this pathfinder will be looking at ways of introducing or expanding childcare at the beginning and end of the school day, including flexible and innovative ways to gather evidence of what works. The full scope of the pathfinder and trailblazer authorities have yet to be announced.
A few things that are now clear that weren’t before are;
- This is for primary school aged children,
- This is a term time only ambition,
- The funding will go to Local Authorities not directly to schools,
- This is not a ‘schools led’ programme.
In speaking to members and in consideration of what has been shared about the policy direction for now, we continue to support and challenge DfE on:
- The clarity of the language that they are using around this programme including steering away from heavy referencing to schools which can feel challenging to many of our members,
- The need for clear and emphatic guidance for local authorities and schools in terms of working with existing provision to seek ways to fill gaps in supply to schools without provision, rather than setting up provision without a sustainable demand that can be evidenced
- To hold schools and LA’s to account where they do not commission services on school sites appropriately and transparently, including committing to investing this funding on the basis of strong business cases and where schools are running provision directly where there is a clear evidenced lack of suitable private provision or other meaningful, evidenced based reasoning
- To develop a level playing field of regulation and quality standards for the sector which promotes best practice so as to ensure every child and family benefiting from this investment has the same expectation of standards and quality experience.
- We are encouraging DfE to make provision within the EYFS amendments that will be brought through this programme for Early Years delivery (ratios) to consider the difficulties faced by school aged childcare in the existing regulatory framework and take the opportunity to revise the provision for regulated school aged childcare.
There is clearly a lot more that will evolve from ongoing discussions and more detailed examinations of the challenges and opportunities as they emerge. For now, these are some of the key points that we are able to share. We will continue to keep members updated via our social media channels, more depth will be provided via the newsletter and in discussion at OOSA Forums. This is a very important time in the development of this policy and it’s key that you as members continue to contribute your thoughts, concerns and feelings about what is happening. We need to hear from you now, as once the policy is set we will find it very difficult to change direction.
Posted by: Rebekah Jackson Reece
Date: 18 April 2023