Commenting on today’s budget – during which Chancellor George Osborne reaffirmed the government’s plans to extend the free early education entitlement offer to 30 hours a week for eligible three- and four-year-olds – Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said:
“With the 30-hour offer due to be rolled out in some areas as soon as next year, it is deeply concerning that the plans remain so severely under-costed. Independent research commissioned by the Alliance found that the annual cost of the policy will be around £1.6bn, far more than the government’s budgetary estimate of £350m. Given that just last year, the Department for Education itself argued that the Labour Party’s pledge (of 25 hours a week of funded childcare for three- and four-year-olds) would cost ‘£1.5 billion, a least’, we remain unclear as to where this £350m figure has come from.
“The simple fact is that if this pledge is not funded adequately, it will not succeed. As such, it is vital that the government fully acknowledges the extent of existing shortfalls, and ensures that the upcoming review into sector funding is open, fair and comprehensive.”
“We were also concerned to hear the Chancellor refer to the funded childcare offer as part of the government’s “goal of securing full employment in Britain”. Early years provision is about giving children the best start in life, not just getting parents back to work. As such, it is crucial that the government now focuses on how it can support the provision of sustainable, high-quality early education and care, and doesn’t try to deliver childcare on the cheap.”