15th April 2024

Our childcare system requires urgent transformation.

Without a functioning and fair Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) system, women are locked out of the workforce and children in the least well-off families aren't supported to thrive. It's time to rebuild childcare. 

This report is part two in a two-part 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, and shows how their learnings can be applied to transformation locally.

Transforming Early Childhood Education and Care: Sharing International Learning Part 2 provides a blueprint for an ECEC system which is not only fit for purpose, but fit for the future. 

Read Transforming Early Childhood Education and Care: Sharing International Learning, Part 2

This report outlines Fawcett's ten-point 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

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.

Alfie Stirling, Director of Insight and Policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

Our dysfunctional childcare system is not working for families in the here and now, and it’s in danger of failing the families who need it most for many years to come. We need an urgent plan for improved standards and regulation that puts the needs of both children and parents at its heart. Our whole economy and families in poverty in particular need a childcare system which is affordable and high quality and which everyone can access. Failing to deliver on ambitious reform will hold back our economy and harm families, and should be a major political priority for our country.

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It's time to reform childcare.