The Guardian is reporting that thousands of private nurseries are declining to accept two-year-olds from poor backgrounds, despite a £100m government initiative to extend childcare to the most deprived families…
The revelation has prompted concerns that some nurseries do not want poorer children mixing with those from middle-class families, their core clientele.
All three- and four-year-olds receive free early education, but the extension of free childcare to some two-year-olds is not universal; instead it is specifically aimed at the underprivileged. The government pledges that from next month 40% of the most deprived two-year-olds – 277,000 children – will be eligible to receive up to 570 hours of free early education a year, equivalent to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks.
However, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that 44% of local authorities did not have sufficient places at the start of this year. It is estimated that 63,000 two-year-olds are on waiting lists, while many councils are not expected to have sufficient provision until the second half of 2015.
The problem is acute in certain cities: in London, only 45% of the eligible two-year-olds have a place. The borough of Lambeth now has a waiting list of more than 1,000.
The initiative has hit problems because it appears many private and voluntary nurseries, which provide the vast majority of places, are reluctant to embrace it. Of the 25,547 nurseries and pre-schools in England, only 13,685 have opted to offer free nursery provision for two-year-olds, compared with the 18,960 open to three- and four-year-olds.
“There are a number of different reasons why childcare providers choose not to offer free places for two-year-olds, and social mixing is a consideration,” said Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, which is campaigning for universal free childcare for all two-year-olds. “As well as benefiting two-year-olds with free early education and providing additional support to working parents, a universal offer would remove such stigma.”
Research carried out by the trust for London councils found that “some providers felt that some of the working parents in their nurseries and pre-schools would object to large numbers of vulnerable children being admitted to their setting and that the 2013 cohort of children would not ‘fit in'”.
Other organisations said the funding arrangements made taking poorer children economically unviable. The Department for Education offers £5.09 an hour to local authorities to deliver free early education…
Have you encountered any examples of this? Do you think it is middle class snobbery at play, funding issues or perhaps something else entirely? Thoughts on sorting out the lack of places? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…
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