I’ve been catching up with recent publications related to the early years over the last few days. So on 17th July, just 5 days before the end of term, the DfE decided that they should publish a revised and updated Operational Guidance. The Pre-school learning alliance has published A guide to the key changes and so here I will be looking at the implications of some of these for parents and providers.
The document has had quite a shake up in some areas and is 4 pages longer than the original which was published only 3 months before in April 2017, they tell us on page 5 this is “following feedback from local authorities, providers and sector organisations” and if I had known the document was up for comment I may well have sent in a few suggestions of my own, but sadly I didn’t.
Parents will be accessing their 30 hours code through the secure messages on their childcare services accounts, on the GOV.UK website, that’s not new. Reminders about reconfirmation of the code though, we are now informed, will also be received into their secure messages. Well we can only hope that they will also receive an email into their mailing account to inform them that a message awaits them, because if not, I can see a lot of missed reminders and therefore Grace Periods being triggered. Having said that the guidance goes on to tell us that if a parent who becomes ineligible and then reclaims, and so becomes eligible for a second time “will receive the same eligibility code for that child” (p11).
Well I’m not sure who came up with that gem – but isn’t that going to cause us all sorts of problems? From our point of view how will we know if parents have genuinely re-applied – until the local authority tell us? From the parents point of view, and I’m talking about those less scrupulous parents here, not the majority, will it not tempt them to argue their case to stay for the 30 hours whilst we wait for LA confirmation. Obviously there is a relatively small window for this but I think we must be very careful about how we treat these potential re-confirmations, as it means that we may be tempted to continue to provide the 30 hours at the end of the Grace Period, and before we have received the verification from the local authority. Best probably to make sure the whole team is aware of how this part of the process works.
Parents who have applied via phone can only re-confirm through the ‘Customer Interaction Centre’, I’m guessing that’s all those people who had to do this when the website crashed – although the suggestion is their codes might begin with ‘11’, which have a limited life, rather than the permanent ‘500’ and so they would then need to reapply online. They don’t make it easy for the parents either it would seem.
We are advised not to sign parents up until we have verified both the age of the child and validity of the code. It seems codes can be issued up to 16 weeks before the child is 3. Although I suspect it will be lost somewhere in translation that they cannot receive the ‘free hours’ until the term after their birthday, in the same way as universal.
Determination of Grace Periods seems to have now been made more confusing, validity end dates will only be issued by HMRC for dates within 2 weeks of the month namely the 7th to the 22nd. LA’s now have an audit window rather than a set date and I can’t say I have worked out the exact impact of all, this but I’ve no doubt my LA and yours will let us know at some point!
The inclusion of ‘no artificial breaks’, in more than one place, I would suggest is to make sure we don’t try to impose restrictions relating to these into any contracts that we might create for parents. They are quite specific that if the funding is before and after lunch this needs to be continuous. But the change of wording from optional to additional was certainly interesting to note (p32).
Lastly, for those of you who are told from time to time that we don’t count as education – we now have it from the horses mouth that we do (apparently). On page 29 the DfE make the statement ‘all early years provision is considered to be education’ – although this does seem to contradict the other recent publication I am due to review which is called ‘Evaluation of Early Implementation of 30 hours Free Childcare’! Not for the first time do we see the powers that be choosing the line that best suits their own agenda!
About the author: Tricia Wellings
Her passion for and knowledge of owning and running a nursery group and the issues within the sector that affect them is second to none. She continues to keep herself updated through regular meetings with PVI groups, Local Authorities, Ofsted Big Conversation and Conferences.
You can find our more about Tricia on her website www.triciawellings.co.uk