Ellen Broomé, managing director of Coram Family and Childcare, shares what must be done to make sure families can access the provision they need.
Wraparound childcare has long been the Cinderella service of childcare provision, lacking adequate funding or policy recognition. Defined as childcare that ‘wraps around’ the school day, we know that this provision is vital for giving parents greater flexibility to work and providing important extracurricular opportunities for children outside of school. Until recently, early years childcare has received greater attention and policy focus. Yet, year on year, Coram Family and Childcare’s annual Childcare Surveys have found persistent shortages in the sufficiency of wraparound provision, with only a quarter to a third of local authorities reporting enough wraparound places since 2017.
However, this year’s Spring Budget marked a promising step in the right direction. The Chancellor announced £289m in funding to support local authorities to expand wraparound childcare between 8am-6pm for all primary aged children. This investment was a welcome recognition of the need for change, and we were pleased to see this ambition to provide high-quality and sustainable wraparound childcare that meets the needs of working families.
This expansion of provision represents important opportunities, but we know it also brings significant challenges for local authorities and providers. To understand better this complex picture, Coram Family and Childcare was commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) to build greater insights into how local authorities might use this additional funding to increase the supply of wraparound provision. Our upcoming report will present what we have learnt from important discussions with a range of stakeholders, including local authorities, sector experts and parents. These conversations have provided invaluable insights into the current challenges facing wraparound provision, and what can be done to address them.
Our emerging findings reveal a number of key themes, which have all helped to inform our recommendations for next steps. For example, many local authorities told us that are significant challenges around accurately mapping supply and demand for wraparound childcare. In other words, it is currently hard to say how much wraparound provision is currently available in local areas and how many families currently want to use it – let alone what future supply and demand may be. Local authorities told us it is difficult to establish a reliable picture of family need and thus design the services that meet local demand. As the policy rolls out, it will be key that local authorities work closely with parents to understand exactly how much childcare they are likely to use and how much they are willing to pay. This will help to ensure that provision is sustainable and well-used. One local authority told us: ‘We are going to be upfront with parents about the potential cost which does need to be at a certain level.’
We also heard about concern around how the upcoming expansion, though welcome, could negatively affect the quality of wraparound provision. We know there are already major pressures around recruitment and retention right across the childcare sector at the moment, as evidenced by the Early Education and Childcare Coalition’s recent report into the early years workforce. This revealed a severe retention crisis, as low pay and limited opportunities for progression mean that skilled and passionate early years practitioners are forced to leave the sector. Local authorities have told us about the difficulties many providers are currently facing with recruiting suitable staff to deliver the entitlements, and we know this has the potential to hinder the expansion of both 30 hours childcare and wraparound provision. The regulations around school age childcare are less prescriptive than for preschool children, which could create particular risks about whether it is possible to get the right people with the right skills to fulfil the role.
Wraparound childcare also presents a unique set of challenges for recruitment because it requires practitioners who are able to work atypical patterns. One interviewee said: ‘I think the challenge is going to be finding people who actually want that kind of work, which is an hour in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, it won’t suit everybody.’ Sector experts also highlighted that those who work in wraparound childcare need to have different skills from the early years workforce and specifically, they need to be experienced in a child-centered pedagogical approach focused on play.
The challenges recruiting suitable practitioners raise concerns for the delivery of wraparound childcare for children with SEND. It is vital that the expansion of provision is inclusive for those children with additional needs, in both mainstream schools as well as in specialist schools. Interviewees noted that the high child to staff ratios at wraparound childcare do not always help with making provision accessible to children with a range of additional needs. One parent, observed from her own experience that ‘parents with children with additional needs are excluded from wraparound childcare’.
We have arrived at a crucial time for this Cinderella service. Our report seeks to shed light on what we must do to make sure that all families benefit from this renewed focus and investment in wraparound provision. Access to high-quality childcare will support more parents to work and give their children important opportunities to learn, develop and have fun with friends outside of school hours. To make the most of this vital opportunity, this expansion must pay close attention to what parents want.