Free childcare plan to be extended


Free childcare will be extended to double the number of families on low incomes, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.

The Government has promised to bolster the handout which will be offered to 40% of parents with two-year-olds next year.
It will be available to 260,000 toddlers and families earning less than £16,190 per year who receive working tax credits.

Adopted children, those in care and youngsters with a disability or special educational needs will also benefit from the changes to be brought in next September, Nick Clegg said.
Some 130,000 two-year-olds (20%) are currently eligible for free childcare, based on whether their family qualifies for free school meals or whether they are cared for by a local authority.

"From today, if you're a parent on a low income with a two-year old in the family you'll qualify for up to 15 hours a week of free early education for your child," Mr Clegg said.

"This free support is focused on helping the families that need it most. That's around 130,000 two-year-olds - one in every five two-year-olds.

"And 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. I believe that every British family, whatever its structure, background and circumstances should be able to get on in life."

The Government has invested £534 million this year in the provision of childcare for 130,000 two-year-olds from this week. This figure will go up to £760 million in 2014/15.

Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, voiced fears that nursery closures could impede the delivery of free childcare.

"W e are concerned that loss of nursery provision in children's centres is impacting on local authorities' ability to find sufficient places for the offer," he said.

New research by the Family and Childcare Trust - to be published this month - indicates that a minimum of 108 nurseries across England have closed or were never commissioned as they were supposed to be, he added.

"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," he said.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance educational charity welcomed the announcement but said the Government plans would fail if they were not properly funded.

Neil Leitch, its chief executive, said: "This is a tremendous initiative that will help to support young children who statistically run the risk of being marginalised throughout their entire life."

But he added: "Our fear is that should this well-intentioned initiative be grossly underfunded, the Deputy Prime Minister will not achieve the brighter start in life for these children that he wants."

© 2013 Press Association
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