Issues in Delivering Value for Money in Free Education for 3 and 4 Year old

Tuesday 3 April 2012 pm

In its February 2012 report on value for money in delivering the free entitlement to education for 3 and 4 year olds, the National Audit Office acknowledged progress made by the Department for Education in achieving this initiative’s objectives. Yet NAO also concluded that DFE should ”… address variations in take-up, quality of provision and the impact on attainment in later years if it is to achieve value for money.” Given the pending national implementation of the free entitlement for up to 40% of 2 year olds, resolving these issues becomes even more urgent and important.

On Tuesday 3 April 2012 ICMEC organised a debate on local variations in the entitlement’s operation, its position within the mixed economy of childcare, its interface with childcare for working parents and different perspectives on value for money. At this event:

  • Julian Wood, Director for Education VFM at the NAO, who directed the team that undertook the study of the free entitlement, discussed the report’s methodology, conclusions and recommendations. See presentation.
  • Neil Leitch, CEO of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, the largest voluntary sector provider of childcare and the fourth largest provider of childcare in England, provided a commentary from a private sector perspective on barriers to the free entitlement’s equitable implementation.

An article in Nursery World on 16 April 2012 highlighted the concerns about top-up fees expressed by Neil Leitch during this seminar as part of giving a provider perspective on ongoing issues with the free entitlement. A lively discussion followed the two presentations.

To read the NAO report, follow this link.

Posted 9 July 2012

Regulating early childhood education and care in England and Europe

The first ICMEC seminar in this new series took place on Monday 24 October 2011 at the Docklands Campus

Ann Gross, Director of the Early Years and Special Needs Group at the Department for Education set out the Coalition Government's vision on services and support for Families in the Foundation Years and for a revised regulatory system for early childhood education and care in England. Ann is a career civil servant with over 25 years experience, first in the Department of Health and then in DfE. Ann has worked on a wide range of children's issues, as well as social care and community health policies. Her posts have included policy on health and social care for disabled adults in DH where she led work on the Valuing People White Paper. In DfE, Ann has worked on special educational needs and disability, Early Years and childcare, where she was actively involved in setting up Sure Start Children's Centres and extended services, children's social care and local authority performance on children's services.

In her presentation, Ann Gross provided the background and context to the Coalition Government's early childhood policy statement Families in the Foundation Years, reflecting its pertinent vision, which was published last July. She also outlined how the Government has renewed its focus on families as the bedrock of society and re-emphasised the need for effective and evidence-based early intervention. She set out the principles and priorities underpinning the policy statement and the Government's plans for further reform. The plans concerning regulation and funding are due to be consulted on in autumn 2011.

To read the PowerPoint presentation used by Ann Gross follow this link: ICMEC presentation Ann Gross DFE 24 October 2011.

Helen Penn reported on her compilation of an extensive report for the European Union, mapping the regulatory frameworks and financing of early childhood systems and the role played by private sector providers in 21 EU members states. Fifteen of these countries were selected for an in-depth analysis complementing the broad mapping. The study was undertaken as part of a wider study focused on equity in EU social welfare services and the role of the private sector in their delivery. Apart from childcare, the other areas covered were elder care, social housing and unemployment benefits. This study highlighted the contrast between the UK in this area and many of its European neighbours.

Helen Penn is Professor of Early Childhood at UEL and Co-director with Eva Lloyd of the International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC). She has had a varied background working as an infant teacher, as a daycare campaigner, and as the UK's first director of integrated children's services in Strathclyde in Scotland. Her research was initially concerned with UK policy and practice in early years. Helen still undertakes some local policy work, but has become especially interested in comparative policy work. Helen undertakes consultancies for a number of international agencies on evaluating and costing systems of early education and care. Recently Helen was rapporteur for the OECD study on early education and care in Canada and produced several major reports for the EU Commission.

To read the full paper on which Helen Penn's PowerPoint presentation at the seminar was based, follow this link: Helen Penn paper for ICMEC seminar 24 October 2011.

In the lively discussion that followed the presentations, the audience of childcare business leaders, local authority early years managers, national and international academics, journalists, national NGO and union officers questioned various aspect of the Government's proposals for change and highlighted possible risks to the quality of early years provision.

Media reports

In its web bulletin dated 1 November, the leading national practitioner magazine Nursery World reported both on the main contents of the presentation by Ann Gross at this ICMEC seminar and, separately, on Helen Penn's research on the regulation and financing of EU childcare systems. You can access these two reports by following these links: DfE flags up changes to the code of practice Email bulletin Nursery World and UK and Ireland top European table of for-profit care providers Email bulletin Nursery World.

Posted 2 November 2011