This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Elizabeth Truss speaks to the Family Childcare Trust about how to improve childcare for parents and children.
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here - and thanks for the Family Childcare Trust for putting on today’s conference.
I’ve just come from a visit to Ephraim nursery in Peckham. They’re a private nursery, with their premises actually inside the school building of a primary and secondary academy, and I was meeting their staff with Boris Johnson.
It’s always impressive to see a funny, warm, charismatic professional in action - charming children and media alike, in a high-quality nursery.
And it was good to have Boris there, too.
Seriously, though, it’s good to have such a dedicated champion of early years in City Hall.
He knows it’s really important - for making sure the next generation do really well, and also for helping working parents in the city.
And one of the things that really impressed me this morning was the way the nursery works with parents.
It’s open from 8 until 6. Sandra, its leader, told me about how they talk to each individual parent about their needs, and what sort of care is right for them. There’s one mum who wants to do a degree - so they’re working with her to offer funded places across 2 days, rather than in one block, to allow her to do her course.
It’s a great example of catering to all age ranges at a single location, with everyone working together to give parents the flexibility they need.
That’s the sort of childcare I want to talk about today.
Flexibility and choice
Because families where both parents work are now in the majority in the developed world.
Here in England, a third of mothers stay at home and two-thirds go out to work. Fathers are increasingly involved in the upbringing of their children.
We need to support all these families in the choices they make - making life simpler and more fulfilling.
That’s why we’re introducing flexible parental leave, for example, so that they can decide how to manage their lives when they have a baby.
Likewise - I want families to have a range of flexible options when it comes to childcare and schooling, to suit their family circumstances.
We all know that even as the economy is picking up, childcare is a big item on tight family budgets.
And it’s not just a question of costs: all too often, childcare is too inflexible.
Whether it’s not being able to find a childminder, or a nursery in the right location with available places, or a school that offers after-hours care, we know that too many parents can’t get the mix of childcare that they need.
We want a system that gives them real flexibility - that gives more choice to more parents.
So what are we doing to achieve that?
I want to focus on 3 big things today.
First, we’re increasing the amount of childcare that’s available, and its flexibility - across schools, childminders, and nurseries.
Second, we’re driving up quality.
And finally, we’re helping parents with the cost of care.
Increasing availability is crucial
I believe increasing the amount and flexibility of childcare is the single most important thing we can do to help parents. That’s where the biggest difference is going to be made.
It creates more types of childcare, for parents to get the choice of care that they want - whether it’s in schools, or nurseries, or childminding.
And offering that choice - increasing supply - will help us get value for money, too.
At the moment, we spend a lot - more than the OECD average - yet parents are paying some of the highest costs in Europe.
When parents find their options limited, the real problem is that over-complex funding and unnecessary bureaucracy have stopped childcare providers growing and flourishing.
So that’s what we’re reforming.
Look at childminders, for example.
They are popular, flexible, and local. Many parents prefer home-based care, especially for the youngest children. They also suit parents who work shifts.
But the number of childminders almost halved over the past decade.
Becoming a childminder meant a mass of paperwork.
Funding rules meant it was hard for childminders to access government funding - just 1% of funded early years places were provided by childminders
And there are also fewer young people entering the profession.
So our solution is first, to level the playing field in funding for independent childminders.
Since September, any good or outstanding childminder can automatically offer funded places for 2- to 4-year-olds.
Fewer than 4,000 childminders were accessing funding. Now, 32,000 are now automatically eligible.
We’re also creating new routes to becoming a childminder in the first place.
We’ve had a number of roundtables at the department with childminders. And they tell me that setting up is a lot of work.
Childminders have to register with Ofsted. They have to spend about £80 on a medical check. About £100 on a pre-registration course. Up to £100 for paediatric first aid training. Public liability, car and home insurance, professional membership, DBS checks, buying equipment, toys, books, creating a website, sorting marketing and accountancy.
I could go on - but I think I would probably bore you.
It’s a lot of money - we estimate at least £800 - and a lot of time.
That’s one of the reasons we’ve enabled the creation of childminder agencies.
By helping with that admin, agencies will simplify the process for becoming a childminder. They could spread the cost, reduce the hassle, and use economies of scale to make it cheaper.
If existing childminders want to join an agency - and it’s completely optional - then they will benefit from that shared invoicing, marketing and training support too.
And for parents, they’ll make it easier to find and employ a childminder - taking vouchers, and giving access to lots of childminders in their area.
At the moment, 20 organisations across the country are working with us to trial childminder agencies. I know that some of them are here today.
Some are private businesses, some are led by local authorities, one’s a children’s centre, some are school based, one’s a charity, one’s a joint venture between a business and a council.
All of them are committed to seeing what works.
And in time, we expect agencies to increase the numbers of childminders - France, where creches familiales have similar functions to agencies, has 5 times as many childminders per person than England.
We want to see more childminders - both independent and agency, working with other types of provision - so that parents have flexibility and choice.
Nurseries are equally essential, giving a really important, valued service to parents, and making up about a quarter of all childcare.
So parents need to get good use from them, too.
We’ve simplified funding. Any good or outstanding nursery will be able to access money - just like childminders - without jumping through any further bureaucratic hoops - and we estimate about 80% of nurseries will automatically get funding.
And we’re making it easier to expand.
We want planning rules - a long, cumbersome process that’s a big frustration for many nurseries - to be much more straightforward too, so they can convert office and shops without requiring additional planning permission.
And we’re replacing a patchwork of local quality and registration standards - with single, national quality and registration standards - so that expansion across more than one authority is easier.
That frees up nurseries that want to grow.
It means that local authorities can focus on encouraging the best providers to their area, and support the weakest providers.
There’s one final part of the puzzle here - schools.
Schools nurseries are an under-appreciated part of childcare.
Half of London places are provided in schools, and they make up fully one-third of the national childcare market - some 800,000 early years places.
But the hours are sometimes inflexible. Most only do 9 to 3. That’s if parents are lucky.
Just imagine if they did 8 to 6. That extra 4 hours a day - two-thirds more time - it would revolutionise parents’ options.
We want to encourage that model.
That’s why I was with Boris this morning, and I’m delighted that Wandsworth want to lead the way, and want to encourage their school nurseries to offer places from 8 to 6.
Some are already showing this model works. Like Oakwood school in Eastbourne. They have a mixture of funded and fee-paying care - which in turn, makes local government funding go further. They now generate income from their nursery, and by clever timing of sessions, they’ve filled almost all their spaces.
And there are others - like Parbold Douglas C of E Academy in Wigan, who have a nursery from age 2 up, and are open from 7:45 to 6. Or St John Vianney RC Primary School in Hartlepool - who run from 7:30 to 6:30.
Many of you will have seen Sally Morgan arguing for school nurseries to start offering places at age 2.
I agree with Sally. And we are helping 50 schools trial places for 2-year-olds, in on-site nurseries.
Because as Sally said, by the time they start school, poorer children have already fallen the equivalent of 19 months behind their more affluent peers.
I want to make it absolutely clear that these children aren’t sitting at desks studying trigonometry.
I recently visited Oasis Academy Hadley, for example, which is offering 2-year-old places. They were painting their feet to make patterns on the floor, running up and down this enormous strip of paper. The point is they were engaging with their teachers and nursery nurses, and learning. That’s what I’m talking about - not mortarboards and blackboards, which is sometimes what people have in their minds.
About 375 schools now offer funded nursery places for 2-year-olds - many of them for the first time - a welcome development.
School-based childcare for the over 5s
And of course it doesn’t stop at age 5.
Schools are already trusted locations, and are obviously convenient for parents who only have to do one school run.
But often, their facilities sit empty for hours each day.
One man who saw the potential to change that was Jack Hatch. He’s headteacher of St Bede Academy, in Bolton.
He saw there was a need for childcare in the area, and felt St Bede’s had a mission to help local families beyond the day-to-day running of the school.
So they started providing childcare, from as early as 7am, up to 6pm, up to 52 weeks of the year, to 7 other local schools - as well as 3 full daycare nurseries. All of St Bede Services’ settings are rated good or outstanding.
But that was in the face of red tape.
If a school wanted to offer care before 8 or after 4, they had to bring in more staff. They had to meet different qualifications rules. They had to consult locally, get permission from the local authority - and meet different planning requirements. And they had to make anyone providing childcare elsewhere register separately at each site.
We want to make it easier - and encourage school-based childcare.
Over the summer we consulted on making it easier for schools to bring in other providers, without that unnecessary red tape.
We’ve already made it much easier for schools to extend the school day - reducing the hours that parents need to cover - and want to do the same for their term dates, too.
We want to align the rules for during and around the school day - so that it is a much simpler operation.
So now, you don’t have to be a complete hero like Jack Hatch - this is something all headteachers can do, and ought to think about.
The new rules will make it easier to bring in private or voluntary sector childcare providers on-site - buying in their specialist expertise.
Or if schools want to, then it will be easier for them to provide the services themselves.
So across schools, childminders and daycare nurseries, we’re expanding availability.
The latest figures show the total number of primary schools, nurseries or childminders offering childcare rose from 88,000 in 2010 to 90,000 in in 2011.
That’s 2 million early years places - a 5% increase on 2009.
I want to talk briefly about children’s centres.
They’re often mentioned in the childcare debate.
Just to be clear, they provide 1% of all daycare places - compare that to school-based childcare, which is 30%, and it’s a much smaller number.
They are an important part of the support we provide for children and families. But that support is primarily about pre-natal, post-natal care, parenting classes, stay and play, providing support and networks for those parents - I was part of my network, after I had my daughters.
We have to be clear that they’re there for everybody in the local community. And in our guidance that we put out earlier this year, we made it very clear that local authorities have a responsibility to make sure children’s centres are accessible to all parents.
Of course we want focus on disadvantaged families - but unless we get all parents through the door, how are we to know which are those that need most help?
And I’m delighted to see a lot of children’s centres working much more closely with their local health services.
I met children’s centre leaders in Watford recently, and it was great to see the range of services they provided - maternal support, antenatal classes, midwives on call - and more. So parents are getting a seamless service, from expecting a baby, through birth, right through early childhood.
Because the wider purpose of children’s centres is to improve outcomes for children. And that’s what we want them to focus on.
There’s this rumour that hundreds are closing. It’s not true. Figures from local authorities tell us about 1% of the total number have closed since 2010 - and a few have opened, too.
And we know from 4Children that 1 million parents using them - so they are thriving.
But I think we can go further. I want to see them even more integrated with health services - especially with health and wellbeing boards.
And DCLG have announced a fund, which local authorities can bid for, to make sure services suit parents - so that parents can find all the services in one place, for example, by sharing sites - rather than having to travel from service to service. We all know how important that sort of local, accessible service is.
I want to encourage everyone to apply - or get their local authority to apply - because it’s a great opportunity to make sure more money gets to the frontline and services work for parents.
Availability is a big issue for parents. So is quality. But the 2 are linked.
By simplifying funding for good and outstanding providers, for example, we’re creating a race to the top. We’re funnelling money towards the best. That gives providers a good reason to get better.
And clarifying the rules means providers are focused on children - not on meeting the demands of red tape.
Take registration. At the moment, we have 2 registers, for different ages; each has different requirements; the older register is compulsory if you do more than 2 hours; but you can still register if you do less.
That’s so complicated, in one of our policy papers we resorted to showing this using a Venn diagram.
Or take inspection, where we have overlapping Ofsted and local authority rules.
Or qualifications. We used to have 400 early years qualifications, a majority of which have no maths or English requirements.
All of this duplication is confusing for parents, time-consuming for providers, and the purpose of these rules - ensuring quality - actually becomes harder when people focus on box ticking, rather than what matters: children.
So we’re improving how it works.
We’re improving registration - we’ve consulted on introducing a single, clear set of safeguarding and welfare requirements.
We’re improving inspection - and want Ofsted to be sole arbiter of standards, with consistent quality standards. Local authorities can support weaker providers, using the issues identified by Ofsted - so the two work together.
And we’re improving qualifications.
The new, more rigorous early years educator qualification will be available from 2014.
We’ve made 1,000 bursaries available for apprentices aspiring to a career in early years education. Just a fortnight ago, we announced these were increasing from £1,500 to £3,000 for the first 200 successful applicants.
And I’m pleased to say that this September, we recruited more than 2,300 trainees to become early years teachers - a 25% increase - despite strengthening the entry requirements.
All of this moves us towards a single training, regulation and quality system from 0 to 18, that’s clearer for parents, and puts better outcomes for children at the heart of reform.
Helping with costs
So that’s how we’re increasing availability and improving quality.
Our third priority is to offer support for parents, to help with the costs of childcare.
We already fund 15 hours of free childcare for every 3- and 4-year-old - worth £2,400 to each family.
And we’ve made it much more flexible so parents can take it in blocks.
And we’ve increased funding for low income 2-year-olds.
Just one month after launching the scheme, 92,000 children have benefitted - we’ve already reached an estimated 70% of the deprived children we want to.
On top of this basic entitlement, low income working families can get help for up to 70% of their additional childcare costs.
And under tax-free childcare, those on middle incomes will get up to 20% of their additional costs paid.
So there are 3 elements to our plan.
We’re increasing the availability and flexibility of childcare - of every type.
We’re improving quality - by clarifying standards.
And we’re helping with costs.
All of those things fit together.
They create a much more coherent, less fragmented market.
They aim to create a system where parents are in the driving seat, and children get what they need.
Our vision is of childcare where families want it, at the time they need it, provided by people they trust, at a cost they can afford.
I know that families are under pressure. I know they face tough choices about how to balance work and care - not least at Christmas time.
I want it to be a real choice.
So that each family - of any shape and size - can work out what’s best for them, and their children.