Published: July 2018

A “flagship” policy outlined in the current Welsh Government's 2016 Programme for Government aims to provide 30 hours of free early education and childcare per week to the working parents of three‐ and four‐year‐olds. However, in common with many other countries, there is currently a lack of detail regarding existing levels of childcare provision that can act as a benchmark with which to examine the impacts of this policy. This article addresses an urgent need to understand current levels of provision at detailed geographical scales so as to provide an accurate picture of early childhood education and care across Wales. By drawing on Geographic Information System network models we compare the spatial distribution of providers with that of potential demand arising from those population groups targeted in the childcare offer. These provide a simple to understand supply‐to‐demand ratio that overcome the limitations of ratios derived for arbitrary administrative boundaries. The types of map‐based outputs that emanate from such an approach are demonstrated to provide more insights into spatial patterns of accessibility to current levels of childcare provision. These have guided the choice of pilot studies that will inform the roll out of the full childcare offer by the Welsh Government in 2020.

Keywords
accessibility, childcare provision, early childhood education and care, floating catchment area, Geographic Information System, Welsh Government free childcare offer