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Councils should not get in the way of good, affordable childcare

For those stuck on welfare, who conclude they would be worse off in work, the explanation is often the cost of childcare. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is personally responsible for blocking reforms to nurseries and child minders which would have helped with this.

Mr Clegg has made the illiberal demand that the ratio of staff to children should be kept at 1:4 rather than allowing parents the choice of sending children to establishments with a ratio of 1:6. That's fine for the rich but keeps the poor trapped on welfare.

Still Mr Clegg is able to branish his "progressive" credentials.

At least there is still improvement being made with the surviving Government proposals.

They make clear that local authorities are currently part of the problem duplicating regulatory burdens and generally meddling even when childcare providers have already achoieved a good Ofsted rating:

The local authority role is unclear, and can hinder providers

Local authorities are responsible for allocating Department for Education funding for early education places for three and four year olds, and for early learning for two year olds. Under the current system, local authorities are encouraged to set local eligibility criteria for early years providers to deliver funded places.

In order to make funding decisions, local authorities often undertake assessments of the quality of provision in their area. Given financial constraints, it is not a good use of taxpayers’ money for local authorities to duplicate the role of Ofsted.

Overlapping quality regimes mean that high quality early years providers often have to satisfy numerous and inconsistent criteria to receive government funding. This can be confusing and bureaucratic, particularly for providers who are part of chains operating across local authority boundaries, as well as potentially putting new childcare providers off from entering the market.

Many high quality early years providers are required to take part in quality improvement or training in order to qualify to deliver funded places. Some providers tell us that they can get bespoke support and training that better meets their needs from other sources, such as through their nursery chain’s in house quality assurance team or from their membership association. The current system sometimes does not give high quality providers the freedom to opt out of local authority training, and forces local authorities to provide training, information and guidance to all providers, even those who don’t need it or can access it elsewhere.

Provision in disadvantaged areas is often of lower quality, and yet evidence shows that children from lower income families benefit most from high quality early education. Poorer quality provision, especially in these areas, needs to be incentivised to improve and local authorities need to have the flexibility to be able to focus resources on supporting them to do so.

There are particular challenges for childminders. In some cases ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ childminders have been prevented from delivering early education places. This has resulted in relatively few childminders offering funded places - less than one per cent of funded early education places are currently delivered by childminders - and diminished parental choice.

The Government are acting to deal with this:

We also intend to change the law to prevent local authorities from making additional quality based requirements on good or outstanding private, voluntary and independent sector providers. We also intend to amend the law so that local authorities will be required to offer to fund a place at a new early education provider, registered with Ofsted, prior to their first Ofsted inspection, if an eligible child wants to take up a place there.

They add that "high quality providers who may have their own quality improvement and support systems, such as nursery chains or childminder agencies, will not be required to access this support. Local authorities will, however, still have a power to provide information, advice and training for high quality providers if they wish to."

These changes sound welcome. But in the interim what are councils doing to avoid wasting money on harmful meddling?


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