Question to the Department for Education:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps she is taking to help school aged childcare providers (a) attract and (b) retain a skilled and qualified workforce.
The government is investing £289 million in a new wraparound childcare ‘pathfinder’ scheme to support local authorities to work with primary schools and private providers to set up and deliver wraparound childcare before and after school. This is the first step in the government’s ambition for all parents of primary school children who need it to access childcare in their local area from 8am to 6pm. Successfully meeting this objective will go some way in ensuring that parents have enough childcare to work full time, more hours, and with flexible hours.
The investment will also support local authorities to test flexible options of providing school aged childcare, for example exploring models such as partnerships between schools and working with private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers, to deliver wraparound childcare that is self-financing and sustainable in the longer term.
The department will work with local authorities, schools, and PVI providers over the next few months to ensure that this programme is designed to meet the needs of parents, and to ensure that the right support is in place for schools and providers. To meet the ambition of the pathfinder, we are working with a small group of local authorities in a co-design process, to build our understanding of the challenges around supply and demand, recruitment and retention, and other operational considerations. This will be a collaborative process to co-design the programme, with additional input from private providers, parents, and others in the sector. We will be looking to support some local authorities to roll out the programme earlier than September 2024, where they are able to. Local authorities who participate in the co-design process may find themselves more able to roll out sooner than they would otherwise be able to.
The department understands that many parents work fewer hours, even when their children are of school age. A key barrier is the availability of wraparound childcare, with only 64% of primary schools currently offering childcare at both ends of the day. The availability of wraparound childcare differs between schools and local authorities. This means that although there is some excellent provision, whether delivered by schools or by PVI providers, not all families are receiving the support they need to enable them to work. In 2021, 40% of non-working mothers with primary age children said that if they could arrange good quality childcare that was convenient, reliable, and affordable, they would prefer to work. Increasing the availability of wraparound childcare for parents will help ensure that working parents do not have to reduce their hours due to their caring responsibilities. Working families can continue to access support with childcare costs through Tax Free Childcare, worth up to £2,000 per year for children aged up to 11, or £4,000 per year for children aged up to 17 with disabilities, and the childcare element for Universal Credit for children up to age 16.
Many schools already work successfully in partnership with PVI providers to deliver wraparound childcare to the school community. Officials are engaging with schools and wraparound childcare providers to understand what support they will require to deliver sustainable wraparound childcare. Officials are also working across government to ensure that the pathfinder scheme complements and supports existing work where schools provide out of hours activities. Senior officials are in regular discussions with representatives from the Local Government Association, local authorities, schools, and PVI providers through the Wraparound Programme Steering Group, helping the department better understand sector-specific challenges.
We recognise that recruitment and retention remain key challenges for schools and private providers. Supporting this workforce continues to be a priority for the department. We are working proactively with the sector and other government departments to build our understanding of the situation and how we might support in this area. That is why this funding is designed to support local authorities to work with schools and private providers to test different approaches and identify what works best for them. The pathfinder will include a robust evaluation to ensure we gather as much evidence and information as possible about the barriers and challenges the sector has in delivering wraparound childcare, and what support and funding the sector needs to deliver provision that is sustainable and accessible to all working parents that need it.