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Thirty hours free childcare - but will it prove to be a positive for parents?

In the ITV Tyne Tees region, both Northumberland and York where selected to take part in a trial of the 30 hours free childcare scheme Photo: ITV Tyne Tees

Working parents of three and four-year-olds in the North East will benefit from an additional 15 hours free childcare from September 2017, but concerns that the scheme is "underfunded" have been raised.

In the ITV Tyne Tees region, both Northumberland and York were selected by the Government to take part in a trial of the 30 hours free childcare scheme back in 2016.

The additional 15 hours free childcare comes on top of the 15 hours free childcare parents can already claim, taking the total free childcare allowance to 30 hours, which the Government say is for "hard-working parents of three and four-year-old's".

For countless working parents, the price of caring for those most priceless to them can be a struggle. The government's answer is 30 hours per week of free childcare in England.

Which families meet the 30 hours free childcare criteria?

  • Both parents must be working.
  • Both need to earn on average, the equivalent of 16 hours on the national minimum wage per week.
  • Both must earn less than 100 thousand pounds a year.

How was the 30 hours free childcare trial received?

ITV Tyne Tees has found that the scheme has received a mixed response. Some feel the scheme has many benefits, one of which is that it makes childcare affordable. Others are concerned that the scheme is "underfunded" and could have a negative impact on the finances of some private nurseries.

Haxby Road Primary Academy in York took part in the 30 hour free childcare pilot scheme.

It's generally been a very positive experience, we had a lot of parents that were paying for that childcare themselves and they've said it's made such a huge difference, a load is lifted.

"It's very flexible, they can use it as works for them.

"It's definitely a back to work agenda, it's about supporting or parents and get them back into work. I do think those children need to spend that time in a setting that is based around play, based around nurture, I think if you get that bit right, those children really come on, become really confident learners and really ready to access the rest of their education"

– Zoe Lightfoot, Head of Haxby Road Primary Academy, York

Lauren Powell is one parent from York who benefitted from the 30 hour childcare scheme. She drops off her three year old daughter Ella into nursery at the school where she also works as a teaching assistant. It's one of the areas where 30 free hours of childcare is being piloted and without it, she says she could not have afforded childcare while she worked.

Lauren Powell is one parent from York who benefitted from the 30 hour childcare scheme. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Oh it's excellent, yeah, I couldn't wait to come in and get her name down and see if she was eligible for the 30 hours funding so then I could come to work in the school.

"I'd have just been stuck really. I think it'd benefit a lot of people, especially people who can't afford the childcare"

– Lauren Powell, Teaching Assistant at Haxby Road Primary Academy, York

Childcare providers don't have to offer the 30 hours from September, it's entirely optional.

The owner of a private nursery in Pateley Bridge in Harrogate already has some concerns over how the government is funding the scheme. Bruce Warnes says ministers are expecting champagne nurseries on a lemonade budget and that nurseries like his may be forced to increase fees for children outside the scheme.

The owner of a private nursery in Pateley Bridge in Harrogate already has some concerns over how the government is funding the scheme. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

We've had a rate setting in North Yorkshire which is £3.90 an hour, we have no sessions that would cost a parent £3.90 an hour. So in effect, there is a subsidy attached which has to come from somewhere.

"We could look to our babies and to our 2 year olds and our non-funded three and four-year-olds to make up that difference, it's not a route we really want to go down because it just makes childcare for everybody else unaffordable."

– Bruce Warnes, Owner, Sunflowers Day Nursery

The Pre-School Learning Alliance, representing childcare providers, agrees, warning that some nurseries may be forced to close.

The reality is it needs more funding, I mean this particular policy was thought up just a could of weeks before the election with no consultation whatsoever and just about everybody you talk to will tell you it's underfunded."

– Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance

The government told ITV Tyne Tees they're committed to helping families access high quality, affordable childcare.

We're introducing a fairer Early Years funding formula which will see the vast majority of providers receive increased funding rates to help deliver the 30 hours.

We're are also providing guidance and , tools and support for providers on how to help childcare professionals run their businesses more efficiently."

– Department for Education statement

Other areas across the country that have benefitted from the 30 hour childcare pilot are:

  • Wigan
  • Staffordshire
  • Swindon
  • Portsmouth
  • Newham
  • Hertfordshire

The eight councils which have already been offering the hours as part of an ‘early implementer’ trial since September 2016, will be joined by Dorset, Leicester, North Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets in April 2017 before the national roll out in September 2017.

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