Childcare use, the Home Learning Environment, perceptions and impacts of the rising costs of living, and awareness of regulations and policies

Ipsos' latest research for the Department for Education in England gathered evidence in November/December 2022 on parents' use of childcare, as well as the Home Learning Environment (0-4 only), perceptions and impacts of the rising costs of living and parental awareness of safeguarding regulations and new policies.

Childcare use 

Three in five parents of children aged 0-4 (60%) reported using formal childcare providers, and around two in five (43%) were using informal childcare. The most frequently used type of formal childcare was nursery or pre-school, with 40% of parents using these settings. Among parents of children aged 0-4 using formal childcare at the time of interview, more than half (55%) would have used more hours of formal childcare if these hours were available. Regarding informal provision, for just over a third (35%) of parents, grandparents assisted with childcare, and it was the most frequently used form of support.  

In comparison, in terms of formal childcare provision, a greater proportion of children aged 5-11 used breakfast or afterschool club (i.e., immediately before or after the school day) (28%) or attended out-of-school clubs or activities (i.e., those which took place in the evenings or weekends such as sports, arts, scouts or other enrichment groups) (26%). Informal childcare in the form of support from grandparents was also used by 35% of these parents.

The most common reasons for children aged 0-4 and 5-14 receiving formal childcare at the time of interview were because the parent was at work (54%), their partner was at work (30%), so that children could mix with other children (27%), or because children were eligible to receive free childcare (26%). In contrast, those parents not using formal childcare indicated this was mainly because they had never used formal childcare (33%), because the childcare available was too expensive (21%), because they could continue to work from home and look after their child (13%), or they could change their working times to fit around looking after their child (12%). Those parents with older children aged 5-14 (15%) were more likely to have changed their working hours to fit around their childcare compared to those with children aged 0-4 years-old (8%). The parents of younger children however (aged 0-4) (31%) were more likely to not use formal childcare provisions due to the available services being too expensive than the parents with children aged 5-14 (14%).

Cost of childcare 

Three in five (58%) parents who used formal childcare reported that they made use of financial help (e.g. Tax Free Childcare, Tax Credits, Childcare Vouchers, childcare element of Universal Credit). Of those who required formal childcare during term time, just under two in five parents would use their own family finances (38%) and 29% would use Tax-Free Childcare.

The majority of parents (77%) had not taken out a loan for childcare costs, while nearly one in five had (18%). Parents of school-aged children were more likely to use a loan than pre-school children. Of those who used a loan at the time of interview, around two-fifths (41%) said it was the only way they could afford childcare. More than two-fifths of parents (43%) who indicated they would consider taking out a loan to help cover childcare costs, said it would encourage them to increase the time their child spends in childcare. Just over a third said they would increase the hours they work (37%).

Barriers to accessing or using formal childcare 

The cost of provision was the main factor preventing parents accessing or using the childcare that they would like to use for their child (53%), followed by safety considerations (44%), and opening hours of provisions (43%). Of the parents who indicated the cost of provision was the barrier to accessing or using formal childcare, just under a third (31%) indicated they were influenced by this a great deal, and around a fifth (22%), a fair amount.  

Overall, 8% of parents said that their child’s childcare had been disrupted due to the provider offering less flexibility in the days and times their child can attend. A further 7% of parents indicated their childcare provider had reduced the number of available days or hours they could choose to access childcare. In addition, almost a third (31%) of parents agreed that they had problems finding formal childcare for their child that was flexible enough to fit their needs. However, less than one in ten parents (7%) had been unable to find a place for their child at a childcare provider.

Home Learning Environment (parents of children 0-4)

The majority of parents with children aged 0-4 years read to their child at least once a day (71%) and 60% helped their child to learn the alphabet at least once a day at the time of interview. The majority of these parents also helped their child learn numbers or to count (60%) and 61% helped their child to learn poems and songs and took their child outdoors to get fresh air at least once a day. 

More than two thirds of parents believed they were equipped with the skills to help their child reach their full potential (70%), and agreed they found it easy to think of learning and play activities to do with their child (68%). Two in five parents (40%) struggled to fit learning and play activities with their child into daily routines, for the most part due to work-related factors.

One in seven parents with children aged 0-4 (14%) agreed that it was the responsibility of schools/childcare providers, rather than parents, to help children aged 5 and under to learn to speak/hold conversations.

Cost of Living – implications on childcare and mental health

More than one in ten parents (13%) selected that childcare costs were in the top three areas causing the most concern. 84% said energy bills were in their top three causes for concern and 61% said groceries. Parents of children aged 0-4 were more likely to select childcare costs in the top three factors (17%) than parents of children aged 5-11 (11%) and 12-14 (3%).

If, due to the rising costs of living, childcare became unaffordable, a quarter of parents would opt for informal childcare (24%), or they would only use their free childcare hours (14%), or they would work fewer hours to use less formal childcare (17%). Most parents reported that since July 2022 the cost of electricity (89%), weekly/monthly food shop (92%), gas (84%) and petrol (81%) have all risen more than the normal increases they have experienced before. One third (33%) also reported that childcare had increased more than they have experienced before. Half of parents of children aged 0-4 using childcare (50%) were worried about being able to afford childcare this year – 20% were very worried, 30% quite worried.

More parents seemed to have prioritised childcare costs over household costs since the start of the summer holidays and would do so over the next year. For parents with children aged 0-4 years who used formal and/or informal childcare, just over half (53%) reported cutting back on household costs to afford childcare and one third (32%) had to cut back on childcare to afford household costs. Since the start of the summer holidays 2022, three in five parents (61%) with a child aged 4-14 years old (including children aged 4 in reception class) had cut back on household costs (food, energy, other household costs, etc) to be able to afford school or childcare costs. 

More than one third of parents with a child aged 4-14 (including children aged 4 in reception class) (36%) thought that the rising costs of living had negatively impacted the mental health of their child, and two thirds of parents (67%) thought that the rising costs of living had negatively impacted their own mental health. Two thirds of parents (65%) thought they were worse off financially than they were around a year ago.

Awareness of regulations and policies

The majority of parents who used a childminder at the time of interview were aware of the criminal checks offered by the Disclosure and Barring Service, known as DBS checks (85%). Almost three quarters (73%) were aware of the approval requirement from Ofsted or Childminding Agency related to operating on non-domestic premises. The majority of parents who were aware of the DBS checks and of the approvals required for operating on non-domestic premises believed they were very important when choosing a childminder (84% and 69% respectively).  

Among parents with children who attended out of school settings, almost half (48%) had not heard about the voluntary code of practice and accompanying parental guidance published by the Department of Education, whereas a quarter (25%) had heard of these documents for safeguarding practices in out-of-school settings.

Two thirds of parents whose child was 4 years old or older (66%) (including 4-year-olds in reception class) had not been recently notified by their child’s school that it had revised or was revising its school uniform policy. Where schools had revised their school uniform policy, the main changes made related to changes in the uniform requirements (50%) and reduction in the number of compulsory uniform items with specific branding (i.e., school logos) (48%).  

Technical note:
Ipsos conducted interviews online with a representative sample of 2,000 parents of children aged 0-4 and 5-14 in England in November/December 2022. Interviews were conducted between 14th November and 7th December 2022. Data were weighted to match the population profile of parents of children aged 0-4 and 5-14 in England by region, social grade, and the age of the selected child (i.e. the randomly selected child aged 0-4 and 5-14 about whom child-level questions were asked). Data between waves are not directly comparable due to changes made to the questionnaire.

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