2024 Summer Term

The know zone

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    Tiffnie Harris says the government's new wraparound childcare guidance falls short and is a missed opportunity to address the widening learning gap in early years education exacerbated by the pandemic. More
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Tiffnie Harris says the government’s new wraparound childcare guidance falls short and is a missed opportunity to address the widening learning gap in early years education exacerbated by the pandemic.

Wraparound childcare

In February, the government published new Wraparound Childcare Guidance for Schools (tinyurl.com/25wvfkzx), following guidance previously published solely for local authorities.

This non-statutory guidance followed an announcement made in the March 2023 Spring Budget that the government planned to invest £289 million into a national wraparound programme to support “families who need to access childcare from 8am to 6pm”.

In his speech (tinyurl.com/mret8r5m), Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said:

  • “Parents of school age children [can] face barriers to working because of the limited availability of wraparound care; and,
  • One third of primary schools do not offer childcare at both ends of the school day, even though for many people a job requires availability throughout the working day.” He went on to highlight how this would be addressed:
  • “[funding] schools and local authorities to increase supply of wraparound care so all school-age parents can drop their children off between 8am and 6pm; and,
  • [a government] ambition, that all schools will start to offer a wraparound offer, either on their own or in partnership with other schools, by September 2026.”

Missed opportunity

So far so good, you might say – who would argue with all of that, right?

However, arguably, we believe this is a missed opportunity by the government to implement an extended curriculum for our youngest children that could have helped schools to close the education gaps that have widened since the pandemic.

As we grow more aware of the impact of the pandemic, we can see that not only did it affect learning and the curriculum, but it also had a detrimental impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

And despite a slight rise in 2023 compared with 2022, at the end of Key Stage 1, about a third of children are not meeting expected standards in reading and mathematics and nearly a quarter are not meeting the expected standard in writing (see tinyurl.com/r5fmjac4).

At the end of Key Stage 2 in 2023, only 60% of children met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths combined and, alarmingly, the disadvantage gap is the widest it has been in more than a decade (tinyurl.com/5xcefwu2). Reports of schools noticing a steady rise in behaviour issues that were not there pre-Covid are also increasing, and improvement in attendance figures is still a hard nut to crack.

This investment by the government could have been used as an opportunity to help schools close gaps through focused learning and activities that extended the school day. But instead, this policy offers nothing more than a babysitting service – and we all know that schools are and should be much more than that.

Most primaries already offer wraparound care, as quoted in the guidance, which states that “80% of schools provide some form of wraparound care”. However, the new guidance stipulates that schools need to provide the service from the hours of 8am to 6pm on weekdays and says, “Schools that are unable to have wraparound on the school site are expected to work collaboratively with their local authorities to ensure parents are, at a minimum, signposted to appropriate provision.”

Local authorities should refer to the Wraparound Childcare Guidance for Local Authorities that was published in February this year (tinyurl.com/5bw3rff9)

Schools that do not or cannot offer this, should refer to the Responding to Requests for Wraparound Childcare Guidance (tinyurl. com/4wfvhnxp) if a parent or carer requests wraparound or holiday childcare. Schools may also find the guidance on Spring Budget 2023 Childcare Expansion useful (tinyurl.com/mr3awh4h).

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary and Data Specialist