The Government is asking for childcare providers and councils to come forward with innovative and flexible ideas of how they would deliver its plan for 30 hours of free childcare to three and four year olds from next September.
It is also using Facebook to ask parents across the country how the extra hours will help them. It says polling of over 2,000 parents up to now shows 80% of working parents would take up the free hours if they were available now.
The government says it has pledged to increase the average funding rates paid to providers to cover the costs of the extra hours of childcare and that it is accelerating its plans by offering to calling for initial providers to offer the extra hours a year earlier than planned.
Education and Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah said: “We are committed to making sure that every family regardless of their background has access to high-quality, affordable childcare.
“I’m delighted that more parents than ever before are taking up the offer, with 99% of 4-year-olds and 94% of 3-year-olds now accessing 15 hours a week of free childcare.
“We want to create a productive economy that helps every family reach their potential, which is why we’re asking parents from all walks of life what difference the extra 15 hours will make to them.”
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Alliance, said: “We welcome any policy that supports working parents with the cost of childcare, but remain concerned at government calls for providers to offer innovative and flexible ideas to prop up an already severely under-funded sector.
“For far too long the Government has relied on the continued goodwill of the sector and unless sufficient funding is provided, the sector will be unable to deliver the extended hours.
“As such, before attempting to publicly appease parents and raise unrealistic expectations, Government should first work with the sector to agree best way to deliver the scheme.”
Busy Bees, a leading childcare provider, said that while they welcomed the new initiative, they were “wanting to see how, exactly, it is planning to fund this project”. Marg Randles, co-founder and Managing Director of Busy Bees, said: “The ideal of 30 hours supported childcare is obviously welcomed by parents, and the sector welcomes any proposal to make quality childcare more affordable, but we need to see how this is going to be funded.
“If nursery owners are allowed more flexibility to administer free entitlement without onerous terms and conditions, and we see a real commitment regarding the funding, it could, potentially, present a great opportunity for the sector to provide more great childcare and deliver better opportunities for more children.”
*Parents wants to take part in survey should click here, or they can comment on Twitter using the hashtag #30hourschildcare.