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Four new local authority areas will be trialling the Government’s 30-hour free childcare offer, ahead of the national roll-out in September.
Dorset, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets will join the eight original ‘Early Implementer’ councils and will be building on their work in testing delivery benefits and challenges.
From April, each area will work with nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in their region to begin offering the 30-hour free childcare places to all eligible three- and four-year-olds, doubling the existing 15-hours entitlement currently available for parents.
Early Years Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said: “In my visits to the Early Implementer councils I’ve seen the innovative work that’s going into delivering our 30 hours offer early. Their efforts are vital to the success of the programme and these four new councils will build on the work we’ve seen so far.
“Our childcare offer is already helping to ease the financial burden of childcare for even more working parents. This is backed by our record investment of £6bn per year by 2020 to support nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in providing high-quality early years education.”
The Early Implementer programme went live in September 2016, with families in Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan and York already benefiting from the scheme. The four additional councils to join the programme will have the opportunity to test specific elements of childcare delivery, such as rural geography, or levels of deprivation. Each will work closely with the existing Early Implementer councils who will be able to offer advice throughout the launch period and early delivery.
The Department for Education (DfE) says the 30-hour free childcare offer could save working parents around £5,000 per year with the cost of childcare, helping to “remove the barriers” of getting back into work or encouraging them to increase their hours where desired.
The DfE has also recently announced £50m of capital grants for childcare projects in England, which hopes to create around 9,000 more 30-hour childcare places in September.
Ellen Broome, deputy chief executive of Family and Childcare Trust, supports the Government’s flagship policy being tested under real conditions.
She said: “Parents struggling with the high costs of childcare in these areas will appreciate this additional help with childcare coming early. This also offers clear opportunities for learning to make this policy work, so that when it is rolled out nationally all families who need the extra support with childcare get the help they need.”
However, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), says that expecting nurseries to take part in 30-hours six months early, and at such short notice, will be a “challenge.”
She said: “The Government has chosen three local authority areas that will receive the lowest possible level funding rate from government of £4.30 per hour in Leicestershire, Dorset and North Yorkshire, as well as Tower Hamlets, at one of the very highest rates of £8.51.
“We all want 30 funded hours to work but NDNA member nurseries in these areas and others are already telling us that the rate to the local authority of £4.30 is totally inadequate to cover costs, let alone deliver high-quality care. They are extremely worried about the prospect and don’t think they can deliver more free hours without making losses.
“Nurseries will need assurances both on the funding rate they will receive – which is still being negotiated at local level – and the level of freedom they will be given to offer funded places in a way that meets the needs of their parents and is sustainable for them as a business.”