The big divide on ‘free’ entitlements

Opinion is divided on the future of childcare entitlements, finds an independent survey by Ceeda, conducted in collaboration with Nursery World.

The research gathered views on which policy model could best support access to high quality early education and childcare for children from all backgrounds. The question was asked in two contexts:


  1. The best model ‘in principle’ – if funding was not an
  2. The best model ‘in practice’ – given the current funding context.


A ‘hybrid’ model involving a mix of subsidised and free places garnered the most support, both in principle (45% of respondents) and practice (46%).

Running for 3 weeks in January and February, the survey received over 1,200 returns. Votes were underpinned by a wealth of comment and further detail on targeting government assistance, to be reported in due course.

The research formed part of the wider ‘Big EY Debate’, an event convened by Ceeda to facilitate transparent debate on childcare entitlements, and encourage collaboration on solutions to well evidenced challenges.



Comments from survey respondents summed up positions well:


The case for a free model: “A free model eliminates discrimination. In deprived areas, parents who cannot afford to subsidise or pay for sessions would have their children excluded. The only fair system is the free model, although this is misrepresented and should be re-named, in order to provide an education to all children.”


The case for a subsidised model: “Providers can choose to operate their businesses in a way that supports longevity, parents appreciate the setting more as they have to make some personal contribution, it is less divisive.   Providers can be more open with regards to extra services and consequently parents know where they are in respect of finances.”

The case for a hybrid model: “I like the hybrid option because it enables families that really need help and support to get it for free. It can help prepare children to do well at school and in life, who may otherwise fall behind because of their family circumstances. But these children would be alongside children whose parents can pay and whose parents may well know how to advocate and demand outstanding childcare. This would improve outcomes for all.”


Commenting on the findings, Dr Jo Verrill, managing director at Ceeda said:

“In reality, all three models explored in this survey are currently in evidence around the country, as providers struggle to bridge funding gaps, last estimated at £824 million. No safety net currently exists for families and providers negatively impacted.

“The survey and related debate have highlighted the challenges and facilitated constructive discussion on solutions. There is an increasingly urgent need for a meaningful review of childcare policy, to recommend a constructive way forward on future government investment. Next steps are currently being explored and we look forward to sharing more information soon.”


Register for our newsletter to receive future updates.