Three and four year olds in Wales are currently entitled to ten to fifteen hours free early years education during term time, but this could increase to thirty hour with the new childcare offer. You have probably heard a lot about this on the news, but what does this mean for you?
The new childcare offer will build on the existing provision, topping it up to 30 hours per week for 48 weeks of the year. This means that you will receive additional funding towards school holidays.
Much like the existing offer you can access the funding with registered private providers and nurseries. If you are in state maintained nursery which is only open during term time, then you’ll need to make other arrangements during holidays.
If you’re in a private setting where you can claim your current 10 hour minimum, you could continue there, claiming up to your 30 hours for 48 weeks of the year. That’s if they are registered for both schemes. If your child is in there for 52 weeks, presumably you need to find another 4 weeks of fees yourself.
The new childcare offer in Wales is well into its pilot phase which started in September 2017. Trial projects have started in Gwynedd, Anglesey, Flintshire, Swansea, Blaenau Gwent, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Caerphilly. Access to the projects are limited to families in specific wards. I’ve learned recently that Cardiff will be introducing it shortly.
I have to admit that I’m not clear on how this work will in practice in the long term. Much of the detailed information I’ve found targeted at education providers, rather than parents. Pacey, the professional association for childcare providers, has produced some helpful FAQs, and a couple of the pilot authorities have posted some too.
Information is available for parents in the pilot areas from their local authority Family Information Service, but that I’ve found information on my area hard to find. Will Newport come on board in 2018, or 2019 – who knows?
I haven’t been able to find anything that indicates when other authorities will come on line, although Welsh Government intend the offer to be rolled out by 2020. I’d welcome even a sketchy timeline at this stage and I know I’m not alone.
As a parent this is important information, especially as one who needs to make that decision about applying for a maintained place under the current system. Applications for a “rising 3” place for January 2019 will open next month. We won’t take up a free place for 10-15 hours a week as it doesn’t fit in with our work pattern and would still require additional private childcare. Getting a full time place is different however.
I welcome the new offer. If it can couple financial support with flexibility, I will be doing a happy dance for others even if its introduced too late for us. The financial burden of childcare for working parents is crippling. Do I think it will help parents balance their lives better? Potentially, as long as we are able to access funding in private settings with opening hours that mirror the working day. Will it help mothers return to work? Possibly, although once your child is three, you’ve already lost three years of your career trajectory. Still, like most parents any help is better than none and this offer will better align childcare provision with England, which already offers this. Providing equality of opportunity for families can only ever be a good thing.
I’d love to hear more about your experiences of childcare in Wales, especially if you are in one of the pilot areas. Perhaps you’re in England and making use of the 30 hours free childcare there. How is that working out for you? Contact me to tell me more or pop your thoughts in the comments below.
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