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Applications open for childcare offer for two year olds, but critics says parents may end up disappointed.
Applications for the first phase of the Government’s extended childcare subsidy offer open today, with working parents of eligible two-year-olds able to apply for 15 hours a week of funded care and education from April 2024.
Childcare providers are, however, warning that parents are likely to be left disappointed as staffing shortages and uncertainty over funding levels threaten the viability of the policy.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled a package of childcare measures in the March 2023 Budget, including a pledge to provide 30 hours of free childcare a week for working parents with children aged nine months to two years, to be introduced gradually over two years. The new 30-hours scheme for babies and toddlers will be introduced in stages between April 2024 and September 2025, beginning with 15 hours for two year olds from April and 15 hours for children from nine months from September, and will be open to most families where all parents are working at least 16 hours a week. All of the government’s “free hours” schemes cover term-time weeks only.
Parents will be asked to reconfirm that they are still eligible for the support every three months.The Government is recommending that parents apply for the new 15 hours for two year olds between mid-January and the end of February so they don’t have to reconfirm eligibility before taking up a place in April. Parents can apply via Childcare Choices.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “While the scheme may sound good in theory, the reality is likely to be very different.
“With the early years sector facing its worst recruitment and retention crisis in recent memory, many settings simply won’t have the staff needed to deliver places to additional children – and unless funding increases to a level that allows providers to pay early years professionals a decent wage, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
“Add to this the fact that many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders still don’t know what funding rates they will receive for the new offers – despite the fact that the policy will start rolling out in just a few months – and it’s no surprise that so many providers aren’t yet able to commit to delivering extended entitlement places.”
He added: “If this policy is to have any hope of succeeding, the government must tackle the huge challenges facing the sector as a matter of urgency. That means a clear and comprehensive plan to tackle staffing shortages and, crucially, adequate funding for the sector, both now and in the future. Anything less and, despite the government’s promises, parents across the country are likely to be left sorely disappointed.”