Research indicates that this summer holiday period may be a difficult one for parents of young children as they struggle to find affordable and available childcare.

The problem is highlighted in a new report by the Family and Childcare Trust which suggests that many local authorities (LAs) do not have enough holiday childcare places to meet demand.

The report has led to calls for increased levels of provision, particularly for those who cannot afford additional paid care and warnings to parents about leaving children without adequate care.

Martin Hodgson, an early years education writer, examines the issue.

The survey

The Holiday Childcare Survey 2016, published by the Family and Childcare Trust, gathers information about the price, availability and uptake of childcare holiday clubs. The data is collected from LAs and identifies differences in provision across Britain.

Under the Childcare Act 2006, all LAs in England and Wales have a legal obligation to ensure sufficient childcare for working parents. The report states that such access is essential for families. Without it, the report says, parents cannot work or fulfil their other responsibilities and children may be put at risk by poor quality provision, or by no provision at all.

However, the survey suggests that parents in some areas of the country face both high prices and a lack of affordable places.

The report states that:

  • 29% of responding LAs in England and 17% in Wales had insufficient data to tell if their supply met parental demand

  • of those that did have data, 88% of LAs in Britain reported having insufficient holiday childcare, including all areas in the east of England

  • in Wales the figure was 100%.

The Family and Childcare Trust estimate that this amounts to well over 5 million 4- to 15-year-olds living in LAs with insufficient holiday childcare. They state that the gap has decreased since their last annual report, but that it is still far too high with the problem particularly acute for parents of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Of the survey sample, nearly a third of parents took unpaid leave and 17% had taken days off sick to look after children. An additional 12% of parents had left a job because they could not find holiday care. Many parents made informal arrangements of their own, perhaps arranging for family or friends to look after their children.


The report recognises initiatives to try to close the gap.

It acknowledges that, from September, parents and childcare providers will have the “right to request” wrap-around and holiday childcare at schools. It also notes that the Government is pledging help with childcare costs through Universal Credit and the new Tax-free Childcare scheme — although it states that implementation of the new scheme has already faced considerable delays.

The report calls on the Government to “fix” holiday childcare by:

  • committing to increasing availability to meet demand, with a particular focus on deprived areas

  • publishing detailed statutory guidance for all UK LAs on auditing childcare resources, including a clear definition of “childcare sufficiency” and “specific measurable indicators”

  • obliging LAs to produce online information listing holiday clubs and activities

  • giving parents a legal entitlement to childcare from the end of parental leave throughout childhood, bringing it in line with the right to a school place

  • ensuring there are no further delays in Universal Credit and Tax-free Childcare

  • supporting schools to co-ordinate local strategies, together with LAs

  • supporting parents to benefit from family-friendly work by putting in place an information campaign for parents on their rights and entitlements at work

  • ensuring the new “right to request” improves access to affordable childcare for disadvantaged children by making the process as simple and effective as possible.

Finding holiday provision

Early years services can help by maintaining staffing over the summer to meet demand. They can also try to be as flexible as possible to fit with parents working hours and their arrangements for looking after school age siblings.

Parents can also be helped to search for local provision if they need additional childcare.

For instance, parents can be directed to the GOV.UK website where there is a facility for them to check with their local council for information on childcare outside of school hours. They need to enter their post code and the system will match them with the relevant webpage on their LAs site.

Informative council sites display Ofsted registered services, including:

  • childminders and quality assured childminders

  • day nurseries

  • LA maintained nurseries

  • nursery units of independent schools

  • pre-school groups and playgroups

  • breakfast clubs

  • after school clubs

  • holiday play schemes

  • quality assured childcare schemes.

Early years providers might support their parents by having information on local provision available and accessible. They should note that many pre-school groups, breakfast clubs and after school clubs are available during term times only.

Holiday play schemes

Holiday play schemes can offer a valuable resource for some families. They can provide a range of activities such as sports, outdoor and indoor games, arts, crafts and drama, typically for 4- to 12-year-olds. Many are subsidised and run by schools or LAs in a variety of community venues. The fees and the hours they open will depend on the scheme but some will offer extended days from 8am to 6pm for an additional charge.

However, holiday club places often fill up quickly, so early registration is recommended. In some areas “open access” schemes exist.

The Holiday Childcare Survey contains a useful analysis of this type of care. The survey notes that there are a growing number of multi-service childcare providers who may provide holiday care alongside other childcare services, day care and out-of-hours provision.

Flexible working

Another possible help for some parents is to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements.

Early years providers might consider supplying parents with information in this area.

Any employee with 26 weeks of service with the same employer has the right to make a request to work flexibly. Employers are obliged to consider any application. They can only reject the request if they have a good business reason for doing so.

Flexible working can take many forms. Most common are part-time or flexi-time (choosing when to work) options. However, compressed hours (working hours over fewer days), staggered hours (different starting and finishing times), job sharing and term-time only working are also popular. Some jobs may also lend themselves to people working from home for part or all of their hours.

Childcare uptake data

The Holiday Childcare Survey is not the only report to produce evidence of particular difficulties for lower income families. The annual survey of childcare and early years by the Department for Education has revealed that children from deprived backgrounds are less likely to receive formal childcare.

Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2014 to 2015, published in March 2016, describes in detail what childcare is used by different types of families.

The study found that 65% of children living in the least deprived areas received formal childcare, compared with 49% of children living in the most deprived areas. It also found that 20% of families earning less than £10,000 a year are not receiving free childcare, compared with 6% of families earning £45,000 or more. It states that 22% of families found it “fairly” or “very” difficult to pay for early years provision.

The findings were published after a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that government plans to expand free childcare eligibility from 15 to 30 hours each week could lead to disadvantaged two-year-olds missing out on places.

Leaving a child alone at home

Parents are warned that leaving a child with inadequate provision is not an option.

It is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. However, the law does not specify an age when a parent can leave a child on their own.

Guidelines from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) say that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time. Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone and parents risk prosecution for neglect if they do so, or if they leave their children in the care of other young children.

More than 500 people were arrested in England and Wales last year for leaving children unattended.

Further Information

The Holiday Childcare Survey 2016 can be found on the website.

The Right to Request Flexible Working: An Acas Guide, can be downloaded from

Last reviewed 3 August 2016