Schools are having to subsidise their nursery provision from their main budgets to offer the government’s extra free childcare hours, a new report shows.
And the struggle to find funding means some providers are having to charge parents for extras, like milk or nappies, said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union.
The NAHT survey, published today, showed that 77 per cent of schools were delivering the 30 hours offer – but 70 per cent were cross-subsidising it.
All three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare a week, but from September 2017 working parents have been able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week.
But the policy has been controversial, with former schools minister David Laws saying that denying extra hours in early education to the children of disadvantaged parents who are unemployed is “utterly nuts”.
And the NAHT survey, of 425 schools and nurseries, found that at the vast majority of providers (78 per cent) less than 10 per cent of the children taking up the offer were from low-income families.
'Budgets are at breaking point'
“Most of the respondents to our survey are finding that they can only make things work by borrowing money from other parts of their budget,” Mr Whiteman said.
“This is unsustainable. Budgets are at breaking point. Increased costs are hitting all education settings, from nurseries to primary schools, to secondaries, special schools and colleges.”
“The government’s 30 hours free childcare promise should be a boost to parents. But it is not truly free. We are seeing that providers are having to make up the funding shortfall by charging parents a higher rate for additional hours outside the school day, or for extras, like milk or nappies,” he said.
He added that children from deprived backgrounds appeared to be losing out under the policy.
“Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of our survey respondents felt that the 30 hours offer had displaced more disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds only entitled to 15 hours of free childcare,” he said. “Help is not reaching the families that most need it, and children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds could risk being pushed aside.”
A Department for Education spokeperson said: "We know the cost of childcare can be a burden on families, which is why we are spending more than any other government on support – around £6 billion a year by 2020 – to help make sure that every child gets the best start in life.
"Couples need to earn just over £13,000 a year and lone parents £6,515, to be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare. Those who aren’t eligible can access a range of other benefits – for example parents who are working a few hours a week may be eligible to claim back 85 per cent of their childcare costs through Universal Credit."