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Up to 50,000 children could miss out this September on a ‘free’ (30 hour a week) childcare place because some nurseries won't offer it.
When it comes to providing ‘free’ childcare, as promised by the Government, 57 per cent of English nurseries (out of 788 surveyed) will either not offer it (22 per cent) or are undecided (35 per cent).
Although 50,000 children could miss out on the 'free' places, the Department for Education (DfE) estimates 390,000 children qualify for a place.
Nurseries gave their views in an annual nursery survey for England published on 18 April by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).
Purnima Tanuku, the chief executive of the NDNA said: "There is no such thing as ‘free’ childcare – parents, nurseries and their staff are all paying for this. Because the 30 ‘free’ hours policy is underfunded, many nurseries told us they will turn their backs on this expansion.
“The Government is relying on the private and voluntary sector to meet expected high demand.”
Some 234,000 children qualify for 30 hour 'free' places delivered by private and voluntary nurseries. But the poll, conducted last January and February, reveals 85 per cent of the nurseries surveyed are underfunded resulting in many deciding to opt out of offering 'free' 30 hour places.
The average loss to a nursery to offer the current '15 hours free childcare' amounts to £958 per child per year. The pressure to deliver 30 hours 'free' is now threatening free places for disadvantaged two-year-olds - with 10 per cent of 788 nurseries surveyed looking to reduce two-year-old places.
With less than half (43 per cent) of nurseries expecting to make a profit in 2017, most settings (83 per cent) plan to increase their fees - the average fee rise being 4.5 per cent.
Ms Tanuku added: “If there is no more money, the DFE needs to give nurseries more flexibility in delivering these places. This includes allowing them to make mandatory charges to parents for extras over and above childcare, such as meals, activities and trips out.
"The DfE acknowledges that nurseries will need to make optional charges, but you can’t run a sustainable nursery business on voluntary charges.
“Without this lifeline, the policy will not be a success for all those who are entitled to it and nurseries fear they will get into financial difficulties and could even go out of business.”
The NDNA recommends:
• Parents be required to pay extra fees as a condition of a funded place
• Increase funding in line with inflation and rising costs such as the National Living Wage
• Nurseries be exempt from business rates
• Parents to have an online Childcare Passport for each child pooling all funding streams so they can pay their choice of provider directly.
To read the NDNA’s Annual Nursery Survey for England report visit: www.ndna.org.uk/NDNA/News/Reports_and_surveys/Annual_Nursery_Survey/2017.aspx