Free childcare places 'to double'

NurseryMr Clegg said the scheme was aimed at “helping the families that need it most”

The number of two-year-olds entitled to free childcare will double next year, the deputy prime minister has said.

From Monday, 130,000 two-year-olds from the poorest families, or in care, will get 15 hours’ free childcare a week.

And Nick Clegg is to say that next year families on less than £16,190 a year on working tax credits will be eligible as it is extended to 260,000 children.

But a charity raised concerns that nursery closures could mean there are not enough places to take up.

Three and four-year-olds are currently entitled to 15 hours per week of “early education” for 38 weeks a year.

The places can be in nursery schools, children’s centres, day care nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools and with accredited child minders.

The £534m scheme coming into force on Monday will allow two-year-olds from families in receipt of certain benefits – such as income support or income-related employment and support allowance – or those who are in the care of the local authority, to receive 15 hours of free childcare a week.

The government will increase the money invested in the scheme to £760m in 2014/15 – extending it to 260,000 two-year-olds in families on less than £16,190 a year who receive working tax credits.

Mr Clegg said it was aimed at “helping the families that need it most”.

“From this time next year, we will extend that helping hand even further, doubling the number of youngsters getting a brighter start in life.

“All the evidence shows that if you take two children – two five-year-olds hanging up their coats next to each other on the first day of school – the poorer child will already be behind their better-off classmate before a single lesson has been taught.

“Without this help, children suffer and the whole class suffers as teachers have to focus more of their efforts on children who are frustrated and left behind through no fault of their own.”

But Anand Shukla, head of the national charity the Family and Childcare Trust, said: “We are concerned that the loss of nursery provision in children’s centres is impacting on local authorities’ ability to find sufficient places for the offer.”

“Cost savings have driven nursery closures and this approach reduces capacity in the system, which will damage government hopes of meeting its targets for provision of childcare for two-year-olds.”

Neil Leitch, of the Pre-school Learning Alliance charity, said it was a “tremendous initiative” but must be properly funded if Mr Clegg was to achieve “the brighter start in life for these children that he wants.”

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Free childcare places 'to double'
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