Agenda item

Early Years (To Follow)

Minutes:

5.1      Roz Nelson, Forum member representing Early Years, presented a report which provided a summary of the changes and challenges for the Early Years sector, following the announcements on the Early Years and Childcare Reforms in the Government's Spring Budget 2023.  She emphasised that final details were still awaited and therefore it was difficult for providers to make any plans for staffing and provision.

 

5.2      The Forum was informed that the expansion of the funded childcare offer would be rolled out in stages over the period Autumn 2023-September 2026 (as outlined in the report accompanying the agenda). 

 

5.3      The Early Years representative reported that at the introduction of the new entitlements from 2024 to 2025, the average funding rate for local authorities for under 2-year-olds would be around £11 per hour.  This was the amount the local authority received.  Local authorities were permitted to retain up to 5%, therefore the hourly rate passed to providers was significantly lower.  The hourly rate differed across local authorities; the Gloucestershire rate was typically slightly lower than the national average.  The majority of the 5% that was retained by GCC was contributed to the C&FC contract value, that currently did not deliver any Early Years services.  In addition, if 80% of additionally eligible parents choose to take up the offer, in Gloucestershire up to 5000 additional childcare places could be needed.  The sector was already reporting significant staff recruitment and retention challenges, forcing many to close some of their rooms and in some cases the whole provision.  Also, there were concerns around the potential impact on the quality of Early Years provision given that providers continued to be clear that the funding attached to entitlements does not meet actual costs.

 

5.4      Members were informed that a consultation had been undertaken with the sector to establish how many settings anticipated they would offer a full or partial expanded offer and what support they would need from the local authority to achieve this.  Around 50% said they anticipated they would consider expanding their offer, but all said they were unable to commit to this until further information and funding rates had been provided by the DfE.

 

5.5      It was reported that the Early Years DSG funding rates received by GCC and paid to Early Years providers remained below the national average.  Low funding rates in the sector, along with increased service delivery costs, was the primary factor in the surge in the number of settings closing across the county and the country.  In addition, the announced uplift was unlikely to cover the minimum wage for staff.

5.6      The Government was proceeding with changing staff: child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds in England to align with Scotland and bring the UK in line with other countries.  The Early Years sector was concerned that this plan risked compromising the children’s quality of education and the care that children received potentially putting their basic safety and wellbeing in jeopardy.  It would potentially add further pressure on the early years workforce, driving even more highly skilled educators away from the sector, at a time when the Early Years sector was already struggling with a recruitment and retention crisis.

 

5.7      The Early Years representative reported that start-up grants for new childminders had been announced which would grow the childminder market.  The Early Years Sector anticipated that in the main this would be a positive reform and would encourage much needed additional childminders across the county.

 

5.8      It was reported that the government had announced plans for additional local authority funding for extra wrap-around childcare.  The government’s ambition was for all schools to deliver wraparound childcare that was self-financing and sustainable by September 2026, and for local authorities to take responsibility for the implementation and oversight of this element of the reform.  It was explained that the wraparound proposal raised several questions around capacity to deliver in already over stretched primary schools.  In addition, local authority support for out of school childcare provision (as opposed to Early Years) in Gloucestershire was removed several years ago during service restructures.  Consideration would need to be given to how the local authority would support this development and fulfil the local authority’s duty to implement and provide oversight of this element of the reform.

 

5.9      The Head of Education Strategy and Development commented that from the local authority’s perspective, due to there being a lack of the full funding information at this stage, it was difficult to determine what capacity there would be within the retained 5% of funding to deliver on the policy changes.  He reported that the Forum would receive a further report on Early Years at the next meeting in January, when there would be more budget information available from the DFE.

 

5.10    The Director of Education reported that the local authority had very recently received notification of a delivery grant of £107k, but it was not clear what the arrangements were for carrying the grant forward into the new financial year and how the funding could be deployed.  She endorsed the points raised around the challenges the policy changes presented.  The local authority was pressing the DfE to provide the full details of the funding information as soon as possible.

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