The Childcare Act is a pioneering piece of legislation. It is the first ever act to be exclusively concerned with early years and childcare. The act will help transform childcare and early years services in England for generations to come, taking forward some of the key commitments from the Ten Year Childcare Strategy, published in December 2004.
Measures in the act formalise the important strategic role local authorities play through a set of new duties. These duties will require authorities to:
- Improve the five Every Child Matters outcomes for all pre-school children and reduce inequalities in these outcomes
- Secure sufficient childcare for working parents
- Provide a better parental information service
- The act also reforms and simplifies early years regulation and inspection arrangements, providing for a new integrated education and care quality framework for pre-school children and also for the new Ofsted Childcare Register. The aim is that the act's main provisions will come into effect in 2008.
Summary of the Childcare Act 2006
The Childcare Act has four parts: duties on local authorities in England (Part 1), duties on local authorities in Wales (Part 2), regulation and inspection arrangements for childcare providers in England (Part 3) and general provisions (Part 4). Key provisions are as follows.
Sections 1-5 require local authorities and their NHS and Jobcentre Plus partners to work together to improve the outcomes of all children up to 5 and reduce inequalities between them, by ensuring early childhood services are integrated to maximise access and benefits to families - underpinning a Sure Start Children's Centre for every community.
Sections 6, 8-11 & 13 require local authorities to assess the local childcare market and to secure sufficient childcare for working parents. Childcare will only be deemed sufficient if meets the needs of the community in general and in particular those families on lower incomes and those with disabled children. Local authorities take the strategic lead in their local childcare market, planning, supporting and commissioning childcare. Local authorities will not be expected to provide childcare direct but will be expected to work with local private, voluntary and independent sector providers to meet local need. Section 7 re-enacts the duty for local authorities to secure a free minimum amount of early learning and care for all 3 and 4 year olds whose parents want it.
Section 12 extends the existing duty to provide information to parents, to ensure parents and prospective parents can access the full range of information they may need for their children right through to their 20th birthday. Local authorities will be required to ensure that this service is available to all parents and that it is pro-active in reaching those parents who might otherwise have difficulty accessing the information service.
Sections 39-48 introduce the Early Years Foundation Stage which will build on and bring together the existing Birth to Three Matters, Foundation Stage and national standards for day care and childminding. This new framework will support providers in delivering quality integrated early education and care for children from birth to age 5.
Sections 31-38 & 49-98 reform and simplify the framework for the regulation of childcare and early education to reduce bureaucracy and focus on raising quality and standards. All providers caring for children up to age 5 will be required to register on the Early Years register and deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage (unless exceptionally exempted). Childcare settings providing for school age children will be judged against a streamlined set of Ofsted Childcare Register standards. These criteria will be compulsory for all settings caring for children under 8. Other providers may join the register on a voluntary basis.
Sections 99-101 allow for the collection of information about young children to inform funding and support the local authority duties under the act.