Change can be very scary and it can mean all manner of adjustments, whether welcome or otherwise, but if you can see that what will come will be an improvement then I think most of us would take a period of uncertainty for long-term gain. What we have had, since the government re-wrote its own manifesto and decided to double its funded entitlement, is a long period of uncertainty. How would the 30-hour entitlement work, who would be able to access it, would funding increase, how would parents use it, would settings offer it, what form would the offer take, and so on.
With the full roll-out imminent, it became clear that the systems put in place for parents to access the offer simply did not work. Not only that, the system to my mind is confusing and seems at odds with the original 15-hour offer. I remember being given a form by my eldest child’s nursery to fill in to say whether we wanted the offer. Yes, we did. Form filled in. Access granted. Perhaps there was more to it, but that is the over-riding memory. Compare that to the new system. Not only is it more complicated, the problems have been exacerbated by poor communication. I wonder how long the testing period lasted? It gives the impression of a rush job. There must be an easier way?
We have a very interesting article from one of the pilot projects in this month’s issue (page 16), which serves to illustrate the wide variety of offers that parents around the country will receive when they do get their entitlement codes. It is an honest and open account about trying delivery methods until you hit upon the right one, for both setting and parents. I can see settings changing what they offer a number of times until a suitable one has been found, perhaps even changing to reflect demand from parents?
One thing we can be sure of is that there will be more change and more adjustments to come. I am not convinced that the government has made early years funding as simple as it could be, there seems to be too many systems, to many funding streams heading in too many directions. I wonder if we would all accept more change if there were to be a major re-think, a complete shake-up of early years delivery that incorporated the national funding formula and funded entitlements, Early Years Pupil Premium, SEND funding, child benefit, the schools grant, childcare vouchers, tax-free childcare, Local Authority top-up supplements – I am sure there are more. I like the idea of a childcare passport and I like the idea of settings being paid direct (or the government could re-introduce ring-fencing).
Improvements can be made, change can be positive, but it will take political will to do so. The sector is ready. For too long, we have been told the first five years are the most important in a child’s life, without the government really changing anything dramatically enough to ensure that our education and care system reflects this. It can be deflating to feel like a broken record, but without significant change we will be forever treading water, forever listening to platitudes that shackle the sector, rather than let it thrive.
Our settings are improving in quality all the time, but how many will survive the 30-hour funding years? This is a very real threat, one that I hope the government is taking seriously. eye