Concerns over how nurseries and schools will provide 30 hours free childcare
EDUCATORS have welcomed the opportunity for some parents to access 30 hours of free care a week for their three and four-year-old children, but raised concerns about how nurseries and schools will have the space, staffing and money to put the provision in place.
Under the present government system, all three and four-year-olds in England, as well as disadvantaged two-year-olds, are eligible for 15 free hours of childcare a week.
This entitlement is due to be doubled from September for working parents.
The Department for Education has announced thousands of new childcare places to be created under a £50m scheme. It said that almost 200 nurseries and pre-schools will benefit from the funding pot, allowing them to invest in new buildings, upgrade old ones and improve facilities. Nearly 9,000 places are expected to be created due to the new money.
But nationally early years groups and experts have raised worries about the move, warning that nurseries and other childcare providers need more money from government in order to meet the 30 free hours offer.
Caroline Walker, the headteacher at Parkside GGI Academy, in Barrow, which has pupils from two to seven years, says her school has been planning for these changes for the past 12 months.
Mrs Walker said her school is discussing extending the building as its nursery is full to capacity already from taking children in morning and afternoon sessions under the present 15 hours scheme.
She said: "We have to look at how we would achieve it and the numbers eligible. It is very good for working parents and we want to encourage parents to move into work.
"Schools will face a battle with lower budgets and not having the space."
Keith Shereston, who owns Lynwood Day Nursery with his wife Diane in Barrow, said they were flexible enough to accommodate the new policy, and said it would be very interesting to see how the scheme developed.
Mr Shereston said: "It's a bit early to say how this will pan out for all nurseries."
Education secretary Justine Greening said: "We want Britain to be a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
"That means removing the barriers facing parents who are struggling to balance their jobs with the cost of childcare, and spreading the opportunities available to hard-working families across the country.
"This funding, backed by our record £6bn investment in childcare per year by 2020, means we can make more free places available to more families across the country, helping us to deliver our childcare offer to thousands more children."
Labour early years spokeswoman Tulip Siddiq said: "Any additional funding is welcome but this is woefully short of what is needed to deliver the government's underfunded childcare plans.
"The Tories still have no strategy to raise the quality of childcare or ensure the sustainability of childcare providers, who are struggling to deliver their underfunded 30 free hours promise.
"The Tory record on childcare is one of fewer Sure Start centres, rising childcare costs and parents waiting for much-needed support. They are failing hard-working families and it's our children and the economy that will pay the price."