Sam Gyimah: we are in a golden age of childcare

Education and Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah speaks about the government’s childcare reforms at the Nursery World Business Summit.

children drawing

Good morning and thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here today at my second Nursery World Business Summit.

The last time I addressed a Nursery World conference was towards the end of the last Parliament. And I’m delighted to be back as Childcare Minister and a full-time minister in the Department for Education. Not only because of the importance of making sure children have the best start in life. But because government has recognised that childcare is the issue for many parents.

As a minister, having responsibility for an area with investment is really exciting. And today I want to set out our priorities for the delivery of 30 hours of free childcare and beyond.

I know how important childcare is from my personal experiences. I was brought up by a single mother, at one point, looking after 3 children under the age of 6. She instilled in me the importance of early education to get on in life. But also as the oldest, there were times that I was helping with childcare.

And now, I’m living in a family with a young son where both parents work, facing the same challenge that all working families face - the struggle to find flexible childcare. Dreading that call from the nursery to say that he has got a temperature and having to speak to my wife about who will pick him up. I know what it’s like from the point of view of a working parent. But no one size fits all.

I couldn’t be more determined to make sure we give children the best start in life, support parents to work, and as a result allow our country to prosper.

Achievements so far

I think we have already come a long way since I was last here. Nearly 60% of children eligible for the 2-year-old free entitlement were accessing a place in January this year, 4 months after the entitlement was extended. Alongside this, the sector is innovating. Take the Swindon 2 to 19 Academy, where the entitlement is being offered over the weekend to support parents’ working hours, thanks to a partnership between the school and a private provider.

We have invested over £50 million in the early years pupil premium, to further help disadvantaged children in the early years. Tax-Free Childcare will be rolled out in 2017. We have supported parents by commissioning the ‘What to expect when’ guide. The literacy strategy which the Secretary of State launched in September has a strong focus on the early years.

And the Childcare Implementation Taskforce, which I co-chair, is bringing together all the different childcare policies that sit across government to make the system simpler for parents and providers.

Our commitment to childcare is made clearer nowhere else than in the Childcare Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, which we introduced to double the existing entitlement for 3- and 4-year-olds of working parents from 15 to 30 hours. This will represent a huge change in the market, with government becoming a bigger buyer of childcare than ever before.

I want to make sure that we support you as providers - in terms of funding, regulation and the workforce - so that you can use this opportunity to deliver what parents want and thrive as a sector.

I am pleased that when government budgets are being cut across Whitehall, that this government has made a strategic decision to invest in childcare.

Making childcare work for parents and children

The online survey we carried out over the summer and the employee events hosted at large employers like Rolls Royce, John Lewis and BT were incredibly useful for developing our policies. And what we have heard from the 19,000 who responded to the survey and those who came to the events is that they are looking for convenience and flexibility, quality, and in the longer term, a simpler childcare system.

For parents, my ambition is to deliver these objectives and to support a system where high-quality childcare is accessible, flexible and affordable. And I think we’re starting off from a strong position, given the current performance of the sector.

The childcare debate has moved on from whether or not Sure Start centres should offer childcare, to how we offer childcare places that are high quality and work for parents. I believe the sector can rise to the challenge and deliver.

Despite the doom-mongers, the 2015 LaingBuisson nursery market report estimated that the UK children’s daycare market was worth £4.9 billion in the 2013 to 2014 financial year - a year-on-year, real-terms increase of 4.1%.

There are more registered places in full daycare settings, and more places in the most deprived areas.

The qualification levels of staff have been rising: the most recent NDNA survey found that 88% of settings surveyed employed a graduate.

The outcomes are positive too:

  • 94% of 3-year-olds and 99% of 4-year-olds take up the current free entitlement
  • at March 2015, 85% of providers on the Early Years Register were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for overall effectiveness and ratings for providers in the most deprived areas have improved from 59% ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in 2010 to 78% ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in 2015. That’s an incredible increase
  • EYFSP results are the best ever. This year, 66% of children achieved a good level of development compared to 52% in 2013. And the gap between the lowest attaining 20% achieving a good level of development and the rest has continued to narrow

I know there will be challenges in delivering the 30 hours. But I am certain that they can be overcome, and that alongside them you will be able to build on the above successes and make the most of the opportunities.

Opportunities brought about by the 600,000 families who will benefit from the 30 hours, some of whom are considering childcare for the first time and others who are considering more childcare. And the increase in the overall spend on childcare across government, rising from £5 billion to more than £6 billion a year over this Parliament, which through Tax-Free Childcare and tax credits means greater spending power for parents.

Progress with the 30 hours pledge

In October we published a policy statement which reflects much of the progress we have made with the 30 hours pledge so far. It sets out the terms of eligibility for the entitlement.

It makes it clear that parents who are self-employed and lone parents get the 30 hours. Grace periods will support those who are away from the labour market temporarily to ensure continuity and limit disruption for children and providers.

It shares the key next steps towards full implementation of the entitlement from 2017 and early implementation in some areas in 2016. I’m told 1,800 local authorities and providers have already come forward to register their interest to take part in the Early Implementers programme. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is, as through implementation we will test capacity, flexibility and innovation, as well as ensure that all eligible children, including those with special educational needs, can access the 30 hours.

As part of the early implementers, and to help inform them, we want to hear about partnership working between schools and providers to deliver flexible, full-day early years provision - the type that parents often need and which we want to encourage, especially to deliver the extra capacity we will need across the system. I mentioned the example of Swindon Academy earlier and I know there are others out there - from Plymouth to Blackburn - so please come forward to share your experience with us if you haven’t done so already.

Providers’ concerns

I know from the call for evidence and the subsequent meetings we held that in the sector you have a range of concerns with the 30 hours offer. I want to be clear that the government is listening to these concerns. And that we will do what we can to address them.

You told us that dealing with multiple local authorities, which have different requirements, can be time consuming. We have already reduced the amount of bureaucracy around the early education entitlements, limiting the conditions that local authorities can place on providers and making it easier for providers to offer places. But we are also looking at what more we could do to make requirements across authorities more consistent across the country.

As set out in the policy statement, we will consider whether we can support local authorities in drawing up agreements with providers. And another area I am keen to explore is the ability for providers to form a statutory relationship with one local authority, such as on environmental health or fire safety, that can then be taken into account by other local regulators.

For childcare providers, this could mean entering into an agreement with a local authority about food safety and hygiene standards, and using this to support setting up provision in another authority, saving precious time and resource for local authorities and providers alike.

You also told us about being more flexible in how you deliver the 30 hours. We think it’s hugely important that the entitlement is made available at times which offer flexibility to parents working outside 9 to 5. And we want to continue encouraging this, for example, through local authorities funding providers to allow parents to access the early entitlement hours between 7am and 7pm, resulting in greater flexibility over drop off and pick up times. Something which I know all too well myself can be a challenge.

And you shared your concerns about attracting, retaining and promoting talent, which I will come back to later, when I talk about my ambitions for the workforce more widely.


Another of your key concerns has been funding. I understand the importance of a sustainable rate of funding to deliver the entitlement, which is why we have undertaken a review of the costs of childcare. This is the first time the department has undertaken a review like this. I also understand the way the local authority top slice works and how that leads to variation in rates across local areas, and that funding differs depending on what type of provider you are.

We have been clear on funding - and the Prime Minister himself has committed to an increase in the average rate paid to providers. The funding review we have been carrying out to understand the costs facing providers will allow us to set a level of funding needed to deliver high-quality childcare provision, while at the same time providing good value to the taxpayer. The review has been going on for 6 months. The results will be part of the 25 November Autumn Statement, which the Chancellor will be delivering for the whole government. I know you will want me to say more today, but I’m afraid I can’t say more than that.

What I can say is that we have drawn on a significant body of evidence, including more than 2,000 responses to our call for evidence on providers’ costs, as well as roundtables to consider in detail some of the issues raised in the call for evidence. And we’ve also had Deloitte, an independent organisation, involved.

Engaging with stakeholders has been a key part of the 30 hours policy development overall. I have already mentioned the survey and events with parents, but we are also planning events to engage with childminders, who are uniquely positioned to play an important role in the delivery of the 30 hours. And we have held productive discussions with unions, including NAHT, ASCL, ATL, NUT, NASUWT and VOICE.

Thank you to all of you who have engaged with us so far - and I hope you will continue to do so as the policy progresses.

Supporting parents as consumers

Supporting parents with their childcare choices also matters to us. During the report stage of the Childcare Bill, we committed to producing a guide for parents to help them understand what quality looks like and helpful questions they can ask when choosing suitable childcare.

We also know that this is the 21st century and earlier this year we launched a competition for a digital solution to help parents with childcare decisions. Childcare.co.uk won this competition and I am looking forward to seeing how their app will offer information, advice and assistance to parents when it goes live at the end of November.

To make sure more childcare places are available for parents we also want to support providers with investment, and in March we launched the childcare investment readiness fund. This will help to generate a new culture of social investment in the early years market, supporting providers, who want to expand, to grow.

Groups such as LEYF in London have already effectively leveraged social investment and we want these success stories to be more widespread. We will shortly be announcing the winning applicants to the fund, and I am excited to showcase their innovation and dedication to expanding high-quality early years provision across the country.


As the Childcare Bill has been going through Parliament, we have made an important commitment to retain the current ratios. And I am clear that we currently have no plans to alter ratios in the delivery of the 30 hours.

But, we need to face up to something: that ratios are not the only hallmark of quality in early years settings. When I speak to providers and ask about this, they list a long line of quality hallmarks. So I would say it is time to stop using them as a stick with which to beat us in government and to focus on the other factors needed to deliver and improve quality. You make decisions about how you run your business.

Operating at the minimum ratios can make a big difference for you and your business in terms of what you can do to reinvest. By maximising ratios, some providers are able to free up resources to invest back in their businesses and improve quality. I would like to see more of this.

A number of you have also said to me privately that while you are comfortable with the existing ratios for 3- and 4 year-olds, you would like to see some more flexibility, for example with different ratios at different times of the day, or when staff are away from work sick. I want you to know that if there are things we can do to help you better organise your workforce, then I am here and willing to listen.

Continuing reform of the workforce

Because the workforce is the biggest asset in the childcare sector, having the right people with the right skills and being able to deploy them in the best ways will make a huge difference to outcomes. It was when I visited the OECD in Paris, that they said said, ‘Staff qualifications are one of the strongest predictors of the quality of early childhood education and care.’

We have invested over £10 million in projects to raise quality and support staff development, including £5.3 million through the voluntary and community sector grants programme and the £5 million fund we announced last year for teaching schools to work with providers in schools and the PVI sector to drive up quality.

One year on, we are seeing great results, especially in disadvantaged areas.

New River TSA in London has set up a strategic partnership between nursery schools, Middlesex University and the local authority, targeting private nurseries with the most disadvantaged children on roll. They provide opportunities for staff in these nurseries to train for qualifications at levels 2, 3 and 4, which are accredited by Middlesex University.

Then there’s East London Early Years and Schools Partnership, which is bringing together primary schools and private nurseries to develop a co-ordinated approach for the early identification of SEN, and a common approach to the transition to school.

Workforce strategy

I shared the finding from the latest NDNA survey earlier that 88% of settings they surveyed employed a graduate. We also know that 97% of staff in the sector already have a level 3 qualification.

But I recognise that there is further to go to address the remaining workforce challenges, especially around progression, for example supporting those at level 2 to progress to level 3. And I am committed to achieving more.

I want young people to consider the early years as a career of choice and a sector in which they can pursue a long-term career full of potential. I want those already working in the sector to have the opportunity to enhance their skills and to pursue the qualifications that enable them to progress.

My vision is that someone joining the workforce as an unqualified member of staff, with the right aptitude to work with children and the potential to achieve the necessary qualifications, can work their way up through the system to become an early years educator, an early years teacher, a centre manager, a manager of a chain, or perhaps an entrepreneur establishing their own childcare business.

It will take time to achieve this, I know, but we should not forget the reforms we have already secured to improve what used to be a fractured and complicated qualifications system.

Early years initial teacher training provides opportunities for some of our highest quality graduates to specialise in the 0 to 5 age range. The introduction of the level 3 early years educator criteria has ensured that training provides a solid grounding in child development and support for children’s learning at the most critical stage of their lives. Employers tell me that our decision to enable trainees to take GCSE English and maths alongside their EYE training is helping more and more staff to access level 3.

What more can we do?

One of the government’s key commitments is to increase the number of apprenticeship starts to 3 million in this Parliament. These high-quality, paid training routes give apprentices a strong foundation for a successful career. In return, organisations benefit from an apprentice whose knowledge and skills they can tailor to meet their business needs. I want the early years sector to benefit too, and I want potential apprentices to see the early years as a destination of choice.

Our own provider survey conducted every 2 years tells us that in 2013 there were 13,500 apprentices employed in full-day care settings. That’s equivalent to 6% of all staff in full-day care settings.

I am committed to the DfE working with colleagues at BIS and through the trailblazer group to develop the new level 3 early years educator apprenticeship standard, and I hope that we could build on this in future to put in place a clear career path for apprentices.

Alongside this I want to engage the sector in exploring how we can create a career structure for all staff, not just those going down the apprenticeship route. I want to develop a workforce strategy that will enable staff to reach their potential and forge a successful career in the early years. And this is one of my key priorities going forward.

As I started by saying, it’s an exciting time to be childcare minister and an exciting time to be involved in the childcare sector. I genuinely believe that we are in a golden age of childcare in this country. You all work extremely hard to deliver the priorities we want for young children and their parents, and whenever I visit nurseries or day care settings I am hugely impressed by your commitment and dedication.

I wasn’t able to attend the recent Nursery World awards, but I know it was a celebration of some of the best practice taking place across the sector. I look forward to seeing more of this in the future, and to working with all of you to make childcare work for children and parents.

Published 11 November 2015