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Gillian Paull

Evaluation of Early Rollout of 30 Hours Free Childcare

The Free Early Education Entitlement currently offers 15 hours of early education for 38 weeks each year to all three and four year old children and the most disadvantaged two year olds in England. This universal offer for three and four year olds was extended to 30 hours for children of working parents in September 2017 with the national rollout of 30 hours free childcare. While the universal entitlement is focused on supporting child development, the aim of this extension is that “Additional free childcare will help families by reducing the cost of childcare and will support parents into work or to work more hours should they wish to do so”. Please use the link on the left to download the full report.

Early rollout of 30 hours free childcare began in four Local Authorities (LAs) in April 2017 with an offer of extended hours places to all eligible children in each LA. The focus of the early rollout was to test sufficiency of delivery and take-up by eligible parents and whether there were any early indications of impacts on childcare use or parental work. It followed two earlier programmes. First, early implementation began in eight LAs in September 2016 with a universal offer to all eligible children in one LA and a rationed offer in the other seven LAs and aimed to test sufficiency in the delivery of places and maximising parental take-up, as well as trial a range of approaches and models to help improve efficiency, flexibility and capacity in childcare provision. Second, the early innovators programme was introduced in April 2016 in 32 LAs (including the 8 early implementer LAs) which did not offer any extended hours places but provided funding for LAs to explore innovative approaches to support the national rollout of the 30 hours free childcare.
This report presents the findings from an independent evaluation of the early rollout undertaken by Frontier Economics, NatCen Social Research and researchers from the University of East London. It is the second report from a broader evaluation of all three “early” programmes, following a report on the early implementer and early innovator programmes published in July 20173. The evaluation of the early rollout aimed to build on the findings from the initial evaluation report and provide further evidence on:

 What challenged and what facilitated the delivery of 30 hours free childcare?
 How did childcare providers respond? Were sufficient places delivered?
 How did parents respond? What were their experiences of using the extended free hours?

In order to answer these questions, a range of quantitative and qualitative evidence was collected using:

 Data collected from each of the four LAs on registered childcare providers, parent applications for the extended hours and headcount data on the use of places.
 In-depth case studies with each of the four LAs undertaking early rollout.
 A large-scale survey with all registered providers in the four LAs.

The learning from the early rollout added to that from early implementation in several important ways:

 Early rollout involved complete implementation in all four LAs whereas early implementation involved only partial implementation in seven of the eight LAs. This provided a stronger test than early implementation of sufficiency of delivery and take-up by parents.
 Early rollout began in April at the start of the school summer term when spare capacity in provision is at its lowest point across the year whereas early implementation began at the most favourable time of year at the start of the school year when spare capacity is at its highest level.
 The four LAs undertaking early rollout were selected to reflect different delivery challenges and local contexts in which to test the policy whereas the eight LAs in early implementation were selected on a number of criteria including a track record of ability to deliver innovative policies.
 The funding rates paid from DfE to the four LAs during early rollout were the rates that will be paid in September 2017. The additional development funding in early rollout was less than in early implementation which created conditions more akin to those that will prevail during the national rollout when there will be no development funding.

The four LAs participating in early rollout were purposefully selected to further test delivery in four specific conditions: high eligibility for the extended hours, rurality, high PVI (private, voluntary and independent) provision and high deprivation levels. The LAs had a range of contextual characteristics across labour market conditions, affluence/deprivation, rurality, and ethnic mix. Local childcare provision was predominantly by PVI providers in two of the LAs and more mixed in the other two. The funding rates paid from DfE to the LAs were identical across three of the LAs and notably higher in the fourth, while the local rates paid from LAs to providers varied by provider type and with the payment of supplements for specific conditions. While three LAs used their own local method for checking parental eligibility for the extended hours, one LA was testing the national online eligibility checking system (the childcare service). Finally, it is worth noting that early years staff in one LA reported being significantly challenged in the implementation of early rollout by a recently downsized early years team and with the separate schools team joining the early rollout at a later stage.

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