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A new survey shows three fifths of local authorities are confident that they will have enough places for the April expansion of ‘free’ childcare, but they are not nearly as confident about the expansion to nine month olds in September.
Local authorities across England are worried they will not have sufficient childcare places to meet parental demand for places for two year olds when the offer expands to nine month olds in September, according to new research published by Coram Family and Childcare.
Whilst 60% of local authorities are ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that there will be enough places to meet demand for the April 2024 expansion (15 free hours for two-year-olds), just 27% of local authorities say the same about the expansion from September 2024 (15 free hours from nine months), and this falls to just 12% for the September 2025 expansion (30 hours from nine months).
For many a key problem is staffing, particularly for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). A report in today’s Times says the Early Education and Childcare Coalition estimates up to 50,000 new nursery staff and childminders will have to be recruited this year if ministers are to meet their pledges over the April expansion.
The Coram and Family Childcare Trust survey found 64% of local authorities identified ‘sufficiency of childcare places for children with SEND’ as an issue and 55% see ‘funding to support children with SEND’ as barriers to successful delivery.
Local authorities were also concerned about how the roll-out of the 30 hours expansion will impact availability of the universal 15-hour entitlement for three and four-year-olds and disadvantaged two-year-olds. A report by the Sutton Trust this week expressed concern that the new expansion will drive further inequality, with the expansion benefiting parents in regular work.
For three and four-year-old entitlements, 35% of local authorities expect that fewer families will be able to take up their places without any charge, and 34% expect fewer places to be available for children with SEND.
For the disadvantaged two-year-old entitlements, nearly half of local authorities expect there to be fewer available places overall, and a third that fewer families will be able to take up their places without any charge, and 33% expect fewer places to be available for children with SEND, as the 30 hours expansion rolls out.
Ellen Broomé, Head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “The coming months will be a crucial time in the sector as we prepare for the implementation of the government’s welcome extension of childcare support. These new entitlements have huge potential to support more parents – particularly mothers – to return to work and to boost outcomes for more children.
“Therefore, whilst it is encouraging that three-fifths of local authorities feel confident about the roll-out in April, we are concerned there may be issues for families further down the line in accessing the childcare they need, as well as ongoing challenges in the sector that could impact the successful delivery of this extended support in the coming year. These issues – including the challenges around recruitment and retention, and funding rates – need to be addressed urgently, and childcare providers fully supported to manage this extension, so that every child is able to access the high quality early years education they are entitled to, and all parents can make meaningful choices about work and care.”