23 August 2017
Every year, we complete research into the cost and availability of holiday childcare, and every year it is disappointing to find similar results: holiday childcare is expensive and there is not enough of it. When we started this work, we had reason to be optimistic that this year’s results might be different: in September 2016 the Government had introduced a promising new policy to help improve the supply of holiday childcare.
The new ‘Right to request holiday and wraparound childcare’ allowed parents and childcare providers to ask their local school to start offering childcare outside school hours including during the holiday. Freeing up school buildings for childcare has huge potential to increase the supply of affordable childcare. Schools can provide this childcare themselves, with their own staff, or they can work with another childcare provider to run the service. Finding affordable and suitable buildings for childcare can be a real challenge – particularly when the building is only needed for a couple of hours a day – so offering school buildings at low or no rent can help to bring costs for providers, and also prices for parents, down.
As part of our Holiday Childcare Survey 2017 we asked local authorities about the impact of this new policy on whether there was enough childcare in their local area. Only 4 per cent reported that it had a positive impact on whether there was enough holiday childcare, with the rest saying that there had been no impact or that they didn’t know whether there had been an impact.
Obviously its early days for this new policy as it will take time for it to bed in and have full effect. But given the scale of the challenge we are facing – only one in four local authorities have enough holiday childcare for working parents – we cannot wait and hope, but instead Government must act now to revisit this policy to make sure it achieves its potential.
Firstly, Government need to take action to help parents find out about their right. Too many parents have never heard of it. The policy is also includes some reasonably complicated guidance for schools on the number of parents who need to make a request in order to show there is demand. Information for parents needs to explain this so that they understand how to make it more likely that their request will be successful.
Secondly, the right could be strengthened to be put on the same footing as the right to request flexible working. When an employee makes a statutory flexible working request, an employer must take their request seriously and make a full response. But if a parent requests childcare at their school, the school is only given guidance on how they should, rather than have to respond. If parents are not happy with the response from their school, they can make a complaint to the school, but there is no other route of accountability. In order to get the action needed, it is time to look again at whether this guidance can be strengthened, possibly even put on the same statutory footing as flexible working requests.
For many schools, it is not possible to provide on-site childcare. The building might be used for other purposes or there might not be enough demand to make it financially viable. But we must make sure that the possibility is fully investigated. Current holiday childcare shortages are leaving working parents with very few options over the long break. If we want to make sure that parents are able to keep on going out to work and that employers have a reliable workforce, we cannot be complacent that the problem of childcare shortages will fix themselves. The Government must act now to revisit this policy to make sure it achieves it’s potential.