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Councils may get more control over early education provision

Plans to change the way local authorities discharge their duty under the Childcare Act 2006, including proposals to ensure early education is delivered free of charge, are being consulted on  by the government.

Local authorities in England have a statutory duty under section 7 of the 2006Act to secure early years provision free of charge for eligible children in their area.

Since September 2010 all three- and four-year-old children have been entitled to 570 hours a year of government-funded early education over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year. In September 2013, this entitlement was extended to look after two-year-olds who meet the criteria used to determine eligibility for free school meals. Under proposals, from September 2014, the entitlement will be further extended to around the 40% most disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Also under the proposed regulations, local authorities may impose requirements which enable them to fund an early education place at any provider who meets the quality standard and is willing to provide the place and accept the terms of the local authority; enable councils to terminate the funding if the quality standard ceases to be met; and ensure that early education is delivered flexibly to meet the needs of parents.

It is also hoped that by giving local authorities greater control, government funding is used properly and in accordance with the arrangements.

Councils will also be able to make it a requirement that providers meet the needs of disabled children and those with special educational needs; andthat providers keep children safe. In addition, if the early years provider is judged less than 'good' by Ofsted, local authorities may impose requirements that the provider takes the measures identified in the Ofsted inspection report to improve the quality of the provision.

However, under the new guidelines, local authorities may not impose that a provider or childminder agency is to participate in a “quality assessment process undertaken by the local authority; and/or require a provider to undertake any training or quality improvement programme other than, for providers judged less than 'good' by Ofsted”.

The potential changes, subject to a vote in Parliament, will come into force from 1 September 2014. Education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said: “I want parents to have better access to affordable, high-quality childcare. Freezing fees and reducing the bureaucracy will encourage new childminders to enter this vital profession.

“We know that good early education gives children the best possible start in life. Childminders are an important part of this and offer huge flexibility for parents - we want to see their numbers increase.”

To read the ‘Childminder agencies and changes to the local authority role consultation’, click here. If you wish to respond the link to the e-consultation is here.

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