Fawcett Society report: childcare sector urgently needs reformed

Fawcett Society’s recent report highlights the critical need to transform the early years sector as the UK falters behind other countries

The report is part two in a project, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, that looks in-depth at ECEC provision in five countries that have recently, or are currently undergoing government-led transformation: Australia, Canada, Estonia, France, and Ireland .

The Fawcett Society has continually called for universal and free access to education from the end of maternity leave until the child is aged 12 as there is strong evidence that affordable childcare increases women’s labour market participation and choices.

It believes that universal childcare is possible, albeit won’t happen overnight. However the international research conducted reveals that other countries, many who are in a similar position to England, have progressed further along in achieving accessible and free childcare.

This month, England expanded its offering of ‘free’ childcare but the Fawcett Society report stated that the focus was too narrow and would not support disadvantaged families or ease the recruitment challenges.

Fawcett Society report: Funding

The report states that early years education and childcare should be delivered on a universal free basis. This will result in all communities being able to access childcare and support people, especially women in the workplace.

One of the most vital things that the government must do going forward is, along with funding, recognise the wider problems facing the sector and include that in their policies.

The report stated:

“The first priority must be for government funding for ‘free hours’ to fully reflect the cost of delivery.
No other funding reforms will work if trust between government and providers is not restored, and if
providers are forced to continue cross subsidising ‘free’ hours with payments from parents.

“Beyond this, England should focus financial support for ECEC on those who need it most.”


The Fawcett Society report outlines a plan for reform in England, which includes:

  • A cross-governmental strategy, based on evidence and which puts children at the heart of the system
  • Building on (and expanding) the existing ‘free hours’ to make the offer open to all children, not just those of working parents, with extra subsidies for the poorest to enable them to afford to supplement the universal offer, and fee freezes (moving to caps) for everyone 
  • Funding provided to nurseries so that they can operate in unprofitable areas, and support inclusion for all children, not just those with a diagnosis 
  • Reforms to regulation, including a workforce strategy 
  • A more inclusive curriculum with a greater focus on continuous improvement and a more active role for government to ensure higher quality and sustainability

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “This report highlights many of the challenges we have been warning about for years. The early education and care sector is underfunded, facing a workforce crisis and has been developed in a piecemeal way with new offers tagged onto the previous system.

“The recommendations echo much of what was said in NDNA’s Blueprint for Early Education and Care which aimed to put children at the heart of this policy area. We are talking about children’s long term futures so we need to see a plan that matches this ambition and lasts longer than just the current election cycles.

“We need to see a future government set a long-term vision for children’s early education so providers can focus on delivering the highest quality in early years that will genuinely give all children the best possible start in life. That requires action to address underfunding, a clear workforce strategy and improving access for all children.”

Jemima Olchawski, Fawcett Society chief executive, said:

“Our childcare is some of the most expensive in the world and it isn’t working. Research shows that 85% of mothers struggle to find childcare that fits around their work and one in ten have quit jobs due to childcare pressures. For too long we’ve seen the cracks in our dysfunctional childcare system papered over.

“We’ve got a patchwork of provision that doesn’t meet the needs of children, parents or the childcare sector. But a broken system isn’t inevitable, as the countries in our research clearly show. We need politicians from all parties to work together and make genuine commitments that last beyond this election – and indeed the next – to reform childcare. There are plenty of countries around the world who simply do childcare better and we should be learning from their ambition.

“As we approach a general election, all parties need to be aware that any credible vision for transforming childcare mustn’t simply offer bolt-ons to a crumbling system. We must be more ambitious, particularly when it has such an impact on both children’s life chances and women’s ability to work.”

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