Report published 15 June 2016. Government response published 7 November 2016.
The Department for Education has made significant progress in providing 15 hours of free childcare to more parents of 3 and 4-year olds and parents of disadvantaged 2-year-olds, according to the National Audit Office. It has not yet, however, achieved full value for money because it cannot track the effectiveness of its substantial investment of £2.7 billion.
Most parents of 3 and 4-year olds take-up free childcare places for their children, and the quality of provision, as measured by Ofsted, has increased in recent years. The Department's measure of children's outcomes at age 5 has also shown steady improvement. In 2015, 66% of children reached a good level of development compared to 52% in 2013. However, the Department cannot link this data to the quality of individual childcare settings children have attended, and from 2017 the current measure of development is being halted.
In 2017, the Department will also double the number of hours of free childcare that working families with 3 and 4-year olds are entitled to, from 15 to 30 hours per week, estimated to affect 390,000 families.
Risks in new 30 hour entitlement
The National Audit Office (NAO) has identified a number of risks to the successful implementation of the new entitlement to 30 hours of childcare, which the Department will need to consider as it pilots the new offer. The NAO found that childcare settings are concerned about the levels of funding that will be available.
Although they are keen to offer the new entitlement, some providers may choose not to if the funding is not right. There is also a risk that childcare settings could choose to offer additional hours to 3- and 4-year-olds by reducing the number of disadvantaged 2-year-olds they look after, as 2-year-olds are more expensive to care for. This would jeopardise the Department's aims to improve educational and other outcomes for the very children who could benefit most from free childcare.