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Councillor Stuart Rawlings is Executive Member Education, Children and Young People on City of York Council. Here he talks about his role when York was one of the original councils to pilot the government’s increase of free childcare hours.
As the Executive Member for Education, Children and Young People on City of York Council I was delighted when York was chosen as one of only eight councils to host a trial of the expansion of the government’s childcare initiative, testing the outcomes of an increase in free childcare for eligible three and four year olds from fifteen hours a week to thirty.
Of the eight early implementers York was the only council which was funded to do a full roll out of the 30 hours across all providers.
I was even happier when both the rate of take-up by parents and the participation by child care providers made the trial in York a resounding success.
The Department for Education funded all children eligible for the extended hours and estimated that about 1,480 children in York would be able to benefit. Our council was set a challenge to fill at least 70 per cent of the available places, which would reach 1,036 children.
According to a national evaluation published last month, York spectacularly exceeded this target, with 1,678 places taken up within just five months- a participation rate of over 110%.
What have we learned from this experience?
Planning is definitely key. We involved childcare providers and York’s Shared Foundation Partnerships at an early stage to meet what we anticipated to be substantial demand. Our childcare strategy team has good relationships across the sector and this meant that they worked hard with providers to keep them informed and engaged with the 30 hours. As a result they stayed on board and showed their commitment to the programme even when concerns regarding funding surfaced. The providers worked with the programme to make it viable both commercially and for parents and no parents with eligible children were turned away. The interface between the council and providers was essential for making the trial such a success.
Evidence from parents has been extremely positive, with over half of those interviewed saying that the scheme meant they had additional disposable income to spend on outings, after school activities and holidays, along with in some instances making a return to work by some parents more viable.
Only seven per cent of parents felt that 30 hours of childcare was too much.
A side benefit has also been to show that the take up of 30 hours in York was higher than estimated.
This scheme is now being rolled out nationally, and I hope other authorities can look to our success with confidence as they implement this expanded programme.