This article was written by BrexitGlory, Secretary of State for Education.
The Department of Education has seen some significant twists and turns this term. I am the fourth serving Education Secretary, and at the same time the department has had to roll out major reforms. From the budget we were granted funds for the provision of 600 new schools, 55 000 new teachers and a £1.24bn boost to the pupil premium – aiding the most disadvantaged. Despite the changing Secretary’s of State, I believe that my department has done a great amount of good this term, almost unparalleled to past terms.
There of course has also been the roll out of new childcare provisions from the Universal Childcare Act (UCA). We have made it clear for some time that the government would be making improvements to the program. There were concerns over costs, sustainability, and effectiveness; as well as the brewing uncertainty from those on the ground about what would happen – parents and nursery staff alike. When I came to lead this special department, I made it my mission to get childcare done, and that is what I have done.
When I think about how best to go about this mission, I think back to a speech the Prime Minister made before he was elected. He recognised that the UCA was indeed a good policy – he was right. He recognised the aim of helping those on low incomes – he was right. He recognised the need to give a helping hand to parents wanting to get back into work – he was right. And perhaps most importantly, he recognised that the policy could be improved. The Prime Minister was 100% right.
It became apparent that there was a strong appetite from across the house that UCA would need reform and a better compromise and settlement was needed. The government has listened to concerns from across the house, as well as consulting on which aspects of the act should be kept. It’s with this approach that the government has set out to improve the policy, ensuring the original aims are kept in place while doing so.
It is in that spirit that I took on this mission, and I believe that the proposals the government has come out with are the right ones. They are the art of compromise, sound policy making and sticking rigorously to the aforementioned aims – we never compromised on the core aims of childcare and we never will.
During the Prime Minister’s speech, he offered an olive branch to those who had opposed the policy and wished to see improvement; particularly with the LPUK. It brings me great pleasure to inform this paper’s readers that the government’s proposals have been accepted by the LPUK as well as the Liberal Democrats. With our upcoming bill we can put the issue to bed, do away with the uncertainty and get childcare done.
The proposals and their attached costings are complex, and further information will be published and sent out to nurseries and parents informing them of the changes and what they are entitled to. However some of the main changes to enhance childcare I will go through here in this article.
Firstly, we will be expanding the pre-UCA 15 hour entitlement to all 3-4 year olds to 30 hours. This change won’t apply to parents earning over £100,000, unless they are a single parent or the child they are claiming for are disabled or have special educational needs. Instead of the normal 38 weeks, we will increase the entitlement to 42 weeks. The UCA provisioned an average of £5.30 per hour per child, we will increase that to at least £5.80; ensuring childcare is high quality but affordable enough that enough hours can be provisioned to allow parents to work. To help meet increased demand we shall provision a new nursery fund of £50 million, enabling nurseries and schools to expand on childcare capacity.
We will also be changing the pre-UCA two year old entitlement for disadvantaged two-year olds, expanding it to cover 1 year olds and radically increasing the funding per child. Funding for disadvantaged 1-2 year olds will be increased from £4.25 an hour from the UCA to £9 an hour, over double. The aim of this is to use high quality childcare to drive child development and early years learning, in an attempt to close the opportunity gap.
We will also be provisioning a new UK-wide scheme from HMT to help parents pay for childcare. Parents will be able to open a tax-free childcare account for each child under 11, or 18 if they are disabled. For every £1 they pay in they will receive 25p from the government, up to £2000 will be topped up by the government for each child. This scheme will end the childcare vouchers scheme that was not accessible to everyone, notably the unemployed or the self-employed. The money paid into the account can only be used to purchase childcare for the relevant child. The government will see £1bn put into this scheme.
Disabled children and children with special needs are always entitled to childcare schemes, at a rate of £10.20 an hour, in contrast to the £10 rate originally required by the UCA.
This is a much anticipated, comprehensive and accessible package of reforms that will enhance childcare in this country. The Prime Minister said we would do it, we had it in the Queen’s speech and the Chancellor committed this government to enhancing childcare in MQs. There were those who said it would not happen, and that it would be impossible – the doomsters and the gloomsters have been proven wrong. We stand by the reforms with full confidence that they will do this cuontry good. More details will come with the bill and I shall be on the radio answering audience questions later.
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