Warrington nursery boss raises concerns over changes to free childcare access

Clare Roberts, CEO of Kids Planet speaks on announcement of The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's first 2023 Budget <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
Clare Roberts, CEO of Kids Planet speaks on announcement of The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's first 2023 Budget (Image: Newsquest)

PARENTS across the country have been waiting in anticipation for the results of the first 2023 Budget this week, with rumours that free childcare for children below the age of three would be on the horizon.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed the details of his first Budget at the House of Commons on Wednesday, 15, confirming this to be true, with funding being rolled out gradually, starting in April 2024 and onwards.

The Chancellor announced in the Budget that from April next year all working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours per week of free childcare.

A further roll out in September 2024, will enable working parents of children aged nine months up to three years old to access 15 hours per week and by September 2025, all working parents of children aged nine months up to three years old will be able to access 30 hours free childcare per week.

Despite the positive implications of this, childcare providers have already expressed concerns about this announcement, including Warrington resident and CEO of Kids Planet, Clare Roberts.

Clare, who owns the successful nursery chain and works regularly with the DfE on improving issues in education, expressed concerns of funding rates for the quality of childcare that will be stretched to further age groups and the current workforce crisis the sector is already facing.

“We are delighted to hear of the increase in childcare support for parents with younger children, which will help our parents with the cost of childcare,” she said.

“For us as a provider, the key issue is around what the funding rates are and if all ages will be adequately funded.”

The government confirmed they will provide £204m of additional funding this year, to ‘uplift’ the current hourly rate paid to childcare providers.

This will be further increased to £288m by 2024-25 and is additional to the £4.1 billion that the government will provide by 2027-28 to facilitate the expansion of the new free hours.

“The current three and four-year-old funding rates do not cover the delivery of high-quality childcare.

"We welcome the communication on the increase rate for two-year-olds which the government has announced, and we look forward to further clarity on the rates for one, three and four-year-olds,” Clare said.

Detailing the ‘ongoing problem’ of retentions within teaching, Clare added:

“Another critical factor for us as a sector is that the workforce crisis needs to be addressed.

“Early Years is facing the worst workforce challenges it has seen, with significantly fewer colleagues joining the industry over the last 10 years.

“Covid and Brexit have further impacted this with many colleagues choosing to leave the profession. This is an ongoing problem that the sector continues to highlight to the Dfe and central government.”

The government also announced a change to staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds, moving from 1:4 to 1:5 to align with Scotland and comparable countries.

The new ratios aim to give providers more flexibility, without compromising children’s safety or quality of provision. They will be optional, with no obligation on providers to adopt them.

Concluding, Clare said: “Regarding ratio changes from 1-4 to 1-5 for toddlers, we welcome this, but we understand that in practice this would depend on the age, stage and needs of the specific children who are being looked after.

“For the government’s new policies to be fully implemented, there will need to be a full overview of the workforce and the level of qualified and unqualified colleagues joining. This will help providers to be able to meet this further demand, which will benefit the economy and families accessing childcare.”