Free nursery scheme ‘55,000 places short’

A flagship government scheme to offer free nursery places to disadvantaged two-year-olds could be hit by shortages and delays, it is feared. This is from the BBC…

Nursery providers and local councils say some areas may not be ready for the national roll-out to 130,000 toddlers across England in September this year.

Some 75,000 places have been found. The government is working with councils and providers to find the remaining 55,000.

South-east England, Birmingham and Manchester are struggling the most.

The scheme to provide 20% of disadvantaged two-year-olds with free part-time early education places was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the autumn of 2010 as part of a package of measures to boost the educational achievement of children from poorer homes.

It was an extension of a Labour scheme, and is due to be expanded again to 260,000 children in September next year.

But only 75,000 places have been secured just four months before the September roll-out, of which 70,000 are on existing pilot schemes.

James Hempsall, who is overseeing the delivery of the Achieving Two-Year-Olds programme, shrugged off concerns, saying local authorities, who now have a duty to ensure sufficient places, were reporting a “high level of confidence for delivery in September 2013”.

He said work was focusing on vacant places and creating more flexibility, such as asking nurseries to provide a third session on top of the traditional morning and afternoon sessions.

But Dr Jill Rutter, research manager at the Family and Childcare Trust, said it was a real struggle in poorer areas where the places are needed but where there tends to be less nursery provision.

TWO-YEAR-OLDS WHO QUALIFY

  • Toddlers from first term after second birthday
  • Parents on certain means-tested benefits
  • Those in local authority care

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