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Education Committee launches inquiry into childcare affordability and early years education

15 December 2022

The Education Committee launches a new inquiry into the childcare sector and early years education, examining why it has become too expensive for a growing proportion of young families.

MPs will investigate issues including the Government’s current system of entitlements to subsidised childcare, which are partly dependent on parents’ employment status and earnings, and the Tax Free Childcare scheme, which has been called too confusing and underutilised.

A poll of 20,000 working parents last year found that 97% believe childcare is too expensive, while this year’s Family and Childcare Survey showed that the average price of full-time nursery care for a child aged under two stands at over £270 a week.

The cross-party group of MPs is seeking evidence on problems faced by the childcare sector itself, such as recruitment and retention of qualified staff. A report by the Social Mobility Commission found that early-years practitioners experience comparatively low pay, high work demands and low social status, which contribute to high staff turnover.

The Committee will also assess the value and quality of early years education, and how effectively it prepares children for starting school, given that the sector’s current regulatory framework has been in place since 2008. Other topics of interest in the inquiry will be how education is provided to young children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and whether changes to the planning system could support the sector.

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker said:

“The childcare sector is intrinsically important because it has the potential to allow millions of parents to continue with their careers while giving young children a huge head start in their pre-school education.

“It’s vital that we identify solutions to the range of problems and challenges facing the childcare sector in England, understand why the costs have become too dear for many families, and see what the Government could do to raise the esteem, affordability and quality of early years education.

“As many have pointed out, getting this right could be a huge boost for the UK’s productivity and the welfare of its future generations.

“It’s no wonder there is so much cross-party hunger to fix childcare. That’s why this Committee is perfectly placed to look for a way forward.” 

Inquiry Terms of Reference

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any, or all, of the following bullet points. Evidence should be submitted here by 19 January 2023. Written evidence should be no more than 3,000 words.

Childcare Entitlements  

  • How affordable and easy to understand is the current provision of childcare in England and what steps, if any, could be taken to improve it, especially in relation to families living within the most deprived areas in England? 
  • Are the current entitlements providing parents/carers with sufficient childcare, and to what extent are childcare costs affecting parents/carers from returning to work full-time?
  • Whether the current Tax-Free Childcare scheme, and support for childcare from the benefits and tax credit system, is working effectively or whether these subsidies could be better used within other childcare subsidies 

Early years provision 

  • What challenges do early years providers face in terms of workforce, including recruiting, and retaining qualified staff, and the barriers faced by individuals joining the profession? To what extent has the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated workforce challenges?  
  • Whether the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) system is meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN), and the improvements that could be made to better support young children with SEN within early years provisions 
  • To what extent does the early years system adequately prepare young children for their transition into primary education, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • The extent to which the reduction of Sure Start Children’s Centres has affected children and families, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the role of Family Hubs 

Further information

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