Is free childcare effective? NAO report says it is not yet value for money

The National Audit Office has published a report which says significant progress has been made in providing 15 hours of free childcare to parents of 3- and 4-year olds, but the Department of Education has not yet achieved full value for money. 

Naomi Eisenstadt, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Oxford, and recently Scotland’s independent advisor poverty and inequality gives her reaction:

“The NAO is right to be concerned about whether the doubling of free childcare for working parents will deliver value for money. If the main aim is to improve school readiness and narrow the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers it is unlikely. The Effective Provision of Preschool Education found some years ago that five half days of high quality teacher led early education makes the most difference, particularly for the poorest children. It found that additional hours did not increase the benefits for children.

Furthermore, Jo Blanden’s research found that the huge expansion in childcare in the last 10 years has not made the educational difference that was expected. One explanation is that the vast majority of additional places were in the private and voluntary sectors, and were not adequately funded to employ graduate teachers.

If the purpose of the expansion is to enable female labour market entry and therefore increase the income of families through less expenditure on childcare, it may be effective in reducing the number of children living poverty. If the main purpose is to improve child outcomes, it is less likely to be effective.”

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