Declares that nurseries, pre-schools and day-care providers fulfil a vital role in the development of pre-school children and that voluntary, private and independent nurseries provide the overwhelming majority of nursery care. The Governments new code of practice fundamentally changes the rules regarding the provision of free nursery places for three and four year olds. They are concerned that the new code of practice could cause significant financial harm and insecurity in the nursery sector, and force existing, trusted nurseries out of business, creating uncertainty for parents and children.
The key principle underpinning the delivery of the early education entitlement for three and-four-year olds is that it should be completely free at the point of delivery for every child regardless of their parent's circumstances. Charging parents for access to the free entitlement can present an unacceptable financial barrier for some families, which may restrict their choice of provider and in some cases deny children access to the free early education entitlement.
The requirement not to charge parents any fee for the minimum free early education entitlement is not new. It
has been made clear in previous versions of the code of practice since 2003 and the 2006 code of practice simply sets it out again explicitly. The single substantive change to the delivery of the free early education entitlement, set out in the 2006 code of practice, was the extension of the minimum free entitlement from 33 to 38 weeks. Following consultation, the Government recognised that not all providers would be able to extend their provision to 38 weeks and that, at the relevant local authoritys discretion, they could be funded for the provision they actually delivered. In addition, all local authorities received additional funding to support the extension to the free entitlement. As a result the Government concluded there should not be an impact on early education providers.
The Government invests £3 billion each year to support the delivery of the free entitlementthe highest level ever invested by any Government. This sum is sufficient to deliver high-quality early learning and care for all eligible three and four-year-olds in a range of settings in accordance with the Foundation Stage curriculum and daycare standards. Funding is provided to local authorities who are responsible for setting the rate at which they fund providers for delivery of the entitlement.
Our proposed reforms support the extension of the free entitlement and aim to address the inconsistencies in how the offer is currently funded across the maintained and private, voluntary and independent sectors culminating in the requirement for local authorities to use a single local formula for funding early years provision in both sectors.
The Governments position on the free entitlement has not had an adverse effect on the market so far. There are now 1.28 million childcare places, more than double the number in 1997, and the market remains stable. Closure rates in the PVI sector are low compared to national small business closure rates.
The provisions in section 8 of the Childcare Act which make local authorities the provider of last resort in the childcare market are designed to safeguard the interests of private, voluntary and independent providers. Our intention is not to undermine the flourishing childcare market, but to ensure that all children, irrespective of their parents' income or family circumstances, can reap the very real benefits of high-quality nursery education.