NurseryThe National Children’s Bureau has welcomed the government's plans to remove planning restrictions for nurseries but sounded a note of caution that the measures could undermine the quality of childcare currently offered to children.

As part of the 'More affordable childcare' proposals announced this week [16 July], the Government is streamlining regulations so “schools have flexibility to provide childcare beyond term times and beyond the school day, making it easier for schools to offer provision from 8am to 6pm for three and four-year-olds and primary school children, in addition to enabling school nurseries to accept two-year-olds”.

In addition, all 'Good' and 'Outstanding' child-minders and nurseries will automatically be eligible to receive Government early education funding from September.

Currently, local authorities act as gatekeepers to this funding. This change will mean that over 80 per cent of nurseries will be able to receive this funding.

Fail to sustain high childcare standards
NCB chief executive Dr Hilary Emery has raised concerns that the lack of local authority involvement could lead to a slipping of what constitutes 'good' or 'outstanding' childcare.

"Local authorities currently play an important role in continuous quality improvement within early education and childcare settings – and indeed in safeguarding the wellbeing of children," she said.

"Under the plans, local authorities will only retain a duty to provide information, advice and training to weaker providers. Such changes may undermine the vital quality improvement function that good and outstanding settings need to access in order to remain high quality. We are concerned that 'Good' and 'Outstanding' settings could fail to sustain high standards if they lose vital information, advice and training provided by local authority quality improvement teams."

Lack of before & after school activities
Much of the onus of the reforms is placed on schools - with schools encouraged to offer affordable after school and holiday care, either alone or working with private and voluntary providers.

The report claims that "too few schools offer activities before or after school that match the childcare needs of parents in full-time work".

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children said: “There is much to welcome in Government’s response to the Childcare Commission ‘More affordable childcare’. In particular the focus on childcare for school aged children, which has not had sufficient attention for too long, is important for parents of older children struggling to juggle work commitments and caring responsibilities. “

However she echoed the concerns of the NCB and added: “We are concerned, that Government proposes to go ahead with plans for new childcare providers to be permitted to provide the ‘free childcare entitlement’ before they have received an Ofsted inspection, as this could see taxpayers’ money being spent on childcare provision which is of an unknown quality.”