The Children Act 2006 and Every Child Matters 2003 regulate childcare and early education in England. These are Government policies, which aim to ensure that all services to children (education, health and safety and social services), work together to ensure the best outcomes for every child. Their aim is for every child, whatever their circumstances, have the right support they need. This leads to Ofsted regularly inspecting and evaluating all premises, enabling high quality standards of childcare and help them to gain their full potential. Therefore, as part of these Government policies, every child is entitled to free part-time early years’ education between ages three and five. This included 12.5 hours a week, 38 weeks a year in a nursery. From 1st September 2010, the Department for Education introduced an entitlement to 15 hours of free childcare per week for all 3- and 4-year-olds in England. In September 2013, it extended this to include 2-year-olds from disadvantaged families. Free childcare can be taken in playgroups and pre-schools, nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools, in children’s centres or with childminders. The free entitlement provided universal access to early childhood education and care, ensuring that all children can benefit from early years education.
In 2015, the Department outlined plans to increase some families’ entitlement to free childcare, and on 3rd March 2017, Ofsted published an updated version of Early education and childcare: Statutory guidance for local authorities. The guidance, which now makes reference to the Childcare Act 2016 as well as the Childcare Act 2006, came into effect on 1st September 2017. According to this revised Statutory guidance, an extended entitlement to 30 hours free provision a week, should be guaranteed to working parents of 3- to 4-year-old children. The eligibility for the additional hours is determined by HMRC through the Government’s online Childcare Service; the guidance also refers to early years provision free of charge (sections 7 and 7A, Childcare Act 2006) and free childcare (section 2, Childcare Act 2016) as the ‘free entitlement(s)’, a ‘free place’ or ‘free hours’. Therefore, the guidance applies to the 15-hour entitlement for the most disadvantaged two-year-old children, the 15-hour entitlement for parents of three and four-year-old (the universal entitlement) and the 30 hours entitlement for working parents of three and four-year-old (the extended entitlement). However, some childcare facilities may choose to opt out of offering the extended entitlement and also, not all children are able to qualify. In fact, the extra funded hours will be made available only to families where both parents (or the sole parent in a lone parent family):
• are working and earn on average a weekly minimum amount equivalent to working 16 hours at either National Minimum Wage (NMW) or National Living Wage (NLW);
• have an income of less than £100,000 each per year;
• live in England.
Early years education is about supporting very young children, children aged 3-5 years old. It is very different from Key Stage 1 as it is based on learning through play rather than a form of formal education. In fact, early years learning usually runs with adults working with children on focused activities that have specific concepts such as play involving using numbers, starting letter formation and language activities. The classroom will usually contain educational toys/play areas and children will be encouraged to work/play independently and choose from a wide range of activities. Foundation stage classrooms/areas also have facilities outside the classroom for outside play. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the statutory framework that sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. It promotes teaching and learning to ensure children are ready for school and gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life. The Early years foundation stage was introduced in 2008 and sets out one standard framework for learning, development and care for all children from birth to the foundation year.
Free childcare can be taken in approved childcare providers (playgroups, preschools, nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools, in Sure Start children’s centres or with childminders). More information can be obtained from local councils. Early education providers are regulated and inspected by Ofsted. The Department oversees the delivery of childcare. It gives funding to local authorities and sets the overall policy for free childcare. The free early education and childcare must stop when your child starts in reception class (or reaches compulsory school age, if later).
Nursery schools are stand-alone establishments that deliver the EYFS to children aged 3-4 years. Nursery schools are structured in the same way as a school, with a headteacher, teachers and various other professionals.
Nurseries on school sites and nursery classes in schools and academies take children aged 3 and 4 years old, usually for the year before they start the first school year. They are sometimes attached to a primary school and may have a separate building and playground away from the main school. Both types intend to provide a grounding for the child to start school, offering a range of structured educational experiences based on learning through play.
Day Nurseries are often based in workplaces and usually privately run; they provide care for children aged from birth to five years old. All must be registered and annually inspected by Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education). In day nurseries: 50% of staff must have a childcare qualification and there are strict guidelines on the ratio of staff to children:
1. one carer to three children under two years of age;
2. one carer to four children aged 2- to 3-year-old;
3. one carer to eight children aged 3- to 5-year-old.
Sure Start Children’s Centres provide early years education for children aged from birth to five years in the local community, full day care, short-term care, health and family support, parenting advice as well as training and employment advice. The establishment of multi-agency Sure Start Children’s Centres is the Government’s programme to support young children and their families. They actively support parents in their aspirations towards employment, education and training. The Sure Start approach ensures that every child gets the best possible start in life and helps parents choose with confidence how they balance their work and family commitments.
Preschools and playgroups are usually run by voluntary groups providing part-time play and early learning for the under five years of age. Three and four-year-old children can get their 15 hours of weekly free early years education at these providers.
Childminders look after children under 12 in their own home. They can look after up to six children under eight years old, although no more than three of them must be under the age of five. Childminders must be registered with Ofsted. Many registered childminders are flexible and will work to the hours that parents need. This makes childminding a valuable childcare option for parents. All registered childminders in England are legally required to complete a pre-registration briefing session and must have completed a local authority approved training course to help them understand and implement the EYFS before they can register with Ofsted. They must also complete a 12-hours Paediatric First Aid Course and gain a certificate as part of their registration.
Nannies and home-based carers provide care for children in their parents’ home and can look after children of any age. Early years education funding would only be available in an Ofsted inspected setting which is found to be of a satisfactory level.