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Majority of childcare providers offer 30 hours free entitlement but regional disparities exist

28 March 2019

The majority of childcare providers in England are offering 30 hours of free childcare, but there are clear differences in offering and delivery of the hours by provider type and by region. The first nationally representative study of early years and childcare providers, following the national rollout of the government policy in September 2017, reveals differences in how providers in different regions engage with the policy. It also finds that a third of school nurseries and just under a quarter of childminders are not offering 30 hours.

Carried out by the National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the Department for Education and in collaboration with Frontier Economics, the Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers shows that 90% of group-based providers[1], 67% of school nurseries and 77% of childminders are offering the 30 hours entitlement to children aged three or four. While 87% of group providers are also delivering the hours, the number is lower for school nurseries (64%) and childminders (59%). 10% of group providers, 33% of school nurseries and 23% of childminders are neither delivering nor offering the 30 hours free childcare. 3% of group-based providers and school nurseries are offering but not delivering the scheme compared to 19% of childminders. 

Whereas group-providers in London are least likely (87%) to offer the entitlement, those based in Yorkshire and the Humber are most likely (96%) to do so. Engagement among childminders is highest in the South West and North East (99% in both regions) and lowest in London (84%). In contrast, school nurseries are most likely to offer extended hours in the South West (81%) and least likely to do so in the East Midlands (58%).

Half of group-based providers (50%) and childminders (51%) are offering the extended hours all year round. School nurseries are significantly less likely to offer the entitlement throughout the year (8%).  In general, longer opening times are closely linked to flexibility levels, with childminders least likely to restrict when the 30 hours could be used throughout the day. 92% of childminders vs 73% of group-based providers and 62% of school nurseries are not placing any restrictions on the timing of sessions funded under the 30 hour entitlement.

Providers offering the two-year old free entitlement are significantly more likely to also offer the 30 hours free entitlement; 93% compared to 82% of group-based providers, 80% compared to 66% of school nurseries and 96% compared to 90% for childminders. The same holds true for providers that have signed up to the Tax-Free Childcare (TFC). 95% of group-based providers, 88% of school nurseries and 96% of childminders that have signed up for TFC also engage with the 30 free hours childcare entitlement, while only 83% of group-based providers, 52% of school nurseries and 89% of childminders that haven’t signed up for TFC do.

Dr Svetlana Speight, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research, comments: “Our findings show that engagement with the 30 hours free childcare entitlement is high across all providers. Yet it’s also clear that there are marked regional differences, with group-based providers and childminders in London being not as engaged with the policy as those in other parts of England. Our report also shows clear differences by provider type, suggesting that group-based providers might be finding it easier to accommodate the 30 hours than school nurseries. These findings will support the Department for Education as they continue working with the early years sector on supporting their delivery of the 30 hours policy for working families.”

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi says: “We are investing more in childcare than ever before and improving the support available to families with young children so they can spend less on childcare and balance work with their family lives. So it’s great to see that so many nurseries, preschools and childminders are offering parents 30 hours free childcare, and even better to see so many children getting the benefits of the offer. We are spending around £3.5 billion to deliver our early education offers this year alone – this includes the 30 hours offer, but also our offer of 15 hours for all three and four-year-olds and for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.”

Download the report: 30 hours free childcare: evidence on early years providers