Guernsey Press

Government faces huge challenges in expanding childcare places, MPs say

The expansion of childcare for working parents in England could put the quality of provision at risk, the Public Accounts Committee said.


The Government faces “huge challenges” in expanding the number of childcare places for families by September 2025, MPs have said.

The expansion of funded childcare for working parents in England could put the quality of provision for children “at risk”, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

Last month, the Department for Education (DfE) estimated that about 85,000 new childcare places and 40,000 extra staff will be needed by September 2025 for the full rollout of its flagship childcare offer.

The PAC has said that the creation of childcare places is a “significant challenge” for the sector, which faces “years of underfunding, ongoing cost pressures and a recruitment and retention crisis”.

There are “significant risks” over whether the DfE’s efforts will be enough to recruit all the staff needed to meet the expected demand for places, it added.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

Last month, the DfE said a pilot will start this summer which will explore how unused school space could be repurposed to support childcare settings to offer more places, in a bid to increase capacity.

In correspondence with the DfE, Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said the expansion “risks adversely impacting” places for disadvantaged children or those with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

It said: “There is also a risk that these new entitlements displace other children if providers choose to offer places to children that are easier or less costly to support. Places for children with Send are already in short supply with families experiencing considerable challenges accessing existing provision.”

In March last year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that eligible families of children as young as nine months in England would be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025.

The Government also said it would increase minimum staff-to-child ratios in England from one to four to one to five for two-year-olds, but the change is optional.

The correspondence from PAC said the “large-scale, rapid expansion”, with changes to early years staff-to-child ratios and staff qualification levels, could put quality of provision at risk.

The group of MPs has called on the DfE to be “prepared to act if there is evidence that quality is falling”.

In February, the Government launched a £6.5 million-backed recruitment campaign to encourage people to work in the early years sector.

The DfE also announced a trial to give new recruits and returners to the early years workforce a £1,000 cash payment shortly after they take up the post.

But the PAC said: “The Department estimates that the early years workforce needs to grow by around 40,000 between now and September 2025, a 12% increase against July 2023.

“This would be challenging enough but is even more so given providers already face existing staff shortages, difficulties with recruitment and poor retention.”

The PAC said the DfE’s “piecemeal approach” is unlikely to address long-standing concerns around the status and low pay of the early years sector.

It has called on the DfE to publish a long-term workforce strategy and delivery plan to address recruitment challenges and the causes of “poor retention”.

The PAC added that the DfE should develop a series of interim milestones to provide assurance that the expansion is on track, and set out its contingency plans if a growth in places and staffing are below what is required.

Last month, a report by Whitehall’s spending watchdog said the Government’s timetable for the childcare expansion was set with “significant uncertainties” around feasibility, costs and benefits, as the DfE did not consult the early years sector ahead of the announcement in the spring Budget in 2023.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the DfE was originally planning to roll out the 30-hour entitlement a year early in some local authorities to test feasibility, but it cancelled its plans because of “affordability constraints”.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.