Finding childcare is essential for working parents but can be very stressful. Funding for childcare has changed significantly in recent years, as has its availability. Local authorities should be a trusted source of local information, advice and signposting for this vital service.
English counties and unitaries, Scottish and Welsh unitaries, metropolitan districts and London boroughs
Although this task is relatively straightforward, requiring the presentation of specific information about well-defined things (eg availability of free childcare for 2-4 year olds) it almost always led reviewers into directory services hosted on third party platforms. Directories linked to council websites are often problematic, and it is notable that those from the same provider can perform well or badly depending on how they are implemented and integrated with the main council website. More than half of our cohort of 206 councils provide a good or very good service. There is little variation in terms of the proportions of 3&4 stars between England, Scotland and Wales, despite slightly different arrangements applying in England and Scotland – where there is a centrally provided Family Information Service - and significantly different ones in Wales.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
Successful resolution of this task requires councils to present information about national rules applicable to childcare eligibility and funding, with information from more diverse sources about the quality and location of local provision. The latter is usually presented in directories labeled ‘Family Information Services’ or similar.
Just over half of the councils tested, which covered all those with responsibilities for childrens’ services, provided a good or very good service with some outstanding examples included in our recommended section.
Top performers made all relevant information easily findable from whatever point in the customer journey, integrating council web pages with relevant pages of their directory and well-placed links to relevant third party sources, including the GOV.UK and the Government's Childcare Choices website.
Where councils performed badly, this was usually due to lack of attention to the customer journey from Google and then between council web pages and directory services. Some of these journeys had surely not been subject to much testing, as one wrong turn would lead to dead ends or a confusing array of options on how to proceed.
An added challenge for this task was that it was tested on mobile devices. Reviewers were not required to complete the full question set for sites that were not responsive (just 5%). Some apparently responsive sites, and particularly directories, did not perform well on mobile devices and were marked down accordingly.
Directories, with their dropdown menus and multiple options, map facilities and other complex functionality, do need rigorous testing on mobile devices before being passed as fit for use. Clever or advanced design elements that work well on the desktop do not always work as well on mobile devices.
The structure of our question set took reviewers into directories first, to look for providers. Some councils put all their information and advice in these directories as well, while other present childcare options and information about eligibility and funding on council website pages, leaving the directory just for signposting and details of providers.
There is no best option here, with the customer experience depending on good integration and linking between council pages and directories. A really good childcare landing page on the council site is key for orientation, and where a directory is the main source of information, it is essential that it is easy for users to locate the introductory advice and information pages.
Too many third party directories are not branded or styled in keeping with the council pages, or have insufficient links to back to them.
79% of councils passed our ‘essential question’ Can I find information about childcare providers on an interactive map OR by postcode lookup, although there was variation in how well the look up was done. Many councils wanted users to specify the type of childcare they were seeking before applying the postcode lookup, with no filtering option offered afterwards. This seems unhelpful when the reality for many parents is that lack of choice may mean that location is more important than type.
One reviewer remarked that ‘quite a few councils use a third party site that hides the post code lookup under the magnifying glass logo, rather than showing it in a prominent/easy to access location on the page’. Some third party sites also have reduced functionality on mobiles compared to the desktop equivalent, including completely hiding the interactive map or reducing search options.
In terms of information available about providers within directories, we asked whether reviewers were able to find links to an Ofsted inspection report (or a Care Inspectorate in Scotland). Only 43% were, which seems low, even accounting for sites where this question will not have been answered because a directory was not found or was not functioning correctly.
We also asked for information about costs of care, provided either within an individual provider profile, or more generally as part of councils’ advice. In 58% of cases this information was found. Some providers may be reluctant to advertise their costs because of competitive pressure, but many seem willing to, and the information is helpful, of course, to people seeking provision. Some councils are willing to give general advice about the range costs to be expected from different provider types, and again, this is all helpful information for people just starting their research in this area.
It was encouraging to find online forms for applying for free childcare for 2 year olds and even simple eligibility checkers to help parents establish their status in a quick and user friendly way. There is also an eligibility checker on GOV.UK that some councils link to.
GOV.UK does provide a lot of good information on eligibility and funding and many sites link to this. In these cases links to the relevant page are more helpful than just linking to the overall ‘help paying for childcare’ section. Given that, according to our survey 55% of council sites are not providing information about tax breaks for childcare costs, it seems a shame that more are not linking to the relevant page on GOV.UK.
Given that most people will arrive on council sites from a Google search on ‘childcare’ or similar, the issues of where this topic can be found within council site navigation may seem trivial. But there will be times when people want to navigate to childcare when on the council site, or from the home page, and this can be difficult, with only 65% of sites offering an obvious link from the home page.
The main top level labels used on home pages or main menus are ‘Education and learning’ or ‘social care and health’. These labels reflect council structures rather than the world of parents or guardians, and may frustrate the uninitiated seeking childcare.
Sites that use ‘Children and families’ as a main label are easier for this task, but this may reflect council structures also, rather than being a deliberately web-friendly choice. Unhelpful main labels are less problematic where navigation structures allow for explicit subheads like ‘childcare’ under main labels (as on GOV.UK). Councils could also consider amending main labels to something like ‘Education, learning and childcare’. Prominent links on landing pages are also essential where ‘childcare’ does not appear at the top level.
The 95% score achieved for use of plain, jargon-free English for this task is pleasing, with reviewers remarking that content was generally well written and concise, certainly when compared with some other areas of council activity tested by Better Connected. It was also rare for information to be buried in PDFs.
Full marks for this site. The childcare directory worked well on my mobile and there was a good spread of information available between the main council site and the Family Information Service one. I had to persevere to answer some of the questions and ensure I looked through the FIS website as well as the council one, but overall I felt that very good information was provided for what is quite a complex topic with a range of financial schemes on offer.
Well designed mobile service page with image icons and a clear green large button for childcare search Only minor improvement would be to consider the category on the homepage that childcare is under health and social care, this might not be the first term a user looks for.
The way the Family Information Service is integrated into the main website design is brilliant from a users perspective on a mobile it makes the whole journey seamless which is essential when you have limited screen viewing. Well done for enabling the full integration. I also enjoyed the Parents Voices video helped lift the content. The general information was concise and helpful.
One of a very few sites and that clearly signposts and links up information about nursery places and other types of childcare on one landing page. Very clear signposting to free places for 2, 3 and 4 years olds amongst other childcare options.
Excellent mobile journey, from Google search straight to directory, the main site particularly excels on the transition to and from the directory from the main site. All information clear and found easily one minor improvement would be to ensure that the Family Services Directory has a prominent Icon link on the sub service page Early Years, Childcare & Funding otherwise you have to rely on seeing the browse categories at the bottom.
Excellent journey, well done - all information found easily, one minor improvement would be to ensure that there is a obvious link back to the main council website once you in the family services directory.
Wonderful example of easy to find the information in a good structured mobile format with clear headings and content written precisely.
Sleek example of a well designed site works responsively and all areas from homepage category to search results are quick and accurate. Relevant headings, icons and boxes used to highlight.
This was a thorough website with some good facilities such as a postcode and map look up for childcare provision on the main website, as well as links through to SFIS for childminders. Good information and links for funding options, not just the council nursery provision so many Scottish councils limit themselves to. It's a shame that tax free credit was not mentioned or linked to directly, although you might have come across it through exploring the linked sites. Overall very well done.
Perth & Kinross
Very comprehensive information found in this site, with a good overview of the childcare choices, including information about 'wrap around care' which I have rarely seen mentioned. A useful page 'Help with the costs of childcare' explains tax free childcare. Overall, the Early Learning and Childcare section provides an excellent, well structured and balanced set of information on this topic, and I haven't any hesitation in recommending it.
Excellent example of a mobile friendly site with relevant icons, good architecture and breadcrumbs. Information concise an easy to read.
Excellent structure and right amount of content, clear navigation very easy to complete the task.
The responsive intuitive design worked well, easy to locate links, styling of boxes and headers works well. The homepage boasts the term childcare. Good example.
Excellent written content all in a well presented responsive design.
Excellent example from start to finish of task journey. Service level page very clear with concise headings in boxes, homepage category in easy to recognise terms; Children, Schools and families.
Excellent example clear mobile design with easy to use category arrow buttons. Correct amount of concise content. Branding consistent from main site to directory. Brilliant work
Excellent easy to find information the homepage has a find childcare link and Children and families link. All the content is thorough and then journey from the council website to family information service is straightforward.
Very good. Would be even better if there was link from FIS directory back to relevant section on council site, currently you have to go back to homepage by clicking partially visible logo at top of page. Fortunately Education, children & families well flagged on council home page.
Really liked the design of the service page that I landed upon straight from google - clean icons with obvious tasks and a useful childcare checklist. I found the top tasks at the top of each page clear and helpful to guide direction for key tasks related to the content provided. The family directory all branded up and integrated within the main site helped the experience appear seamless. I would suggest slight change simply by swapping round education and families wording round to ensure it is fully visible on the homepage.