Fresh setback for 30-hour nursery place scheme

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education and social affairs reporter

Image source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Early education is seen is key to educational success later on

There's been a further setback to ministers' plans to offer all pre-school children in England an extra 15 hours of childcare a week.

A fifth of nursery providers delivering the current 15 hours' entitlement say they won't be offering the new 30 hours when the scheme starts in September.

Official data shows 44,250 providers plan to offer the full entitlement, against 54,900 offering 15 hours now.

The government is spending a record £6bn on childcare by 2020.

The Department for Education said its survey was conducted between March and July 2016, before the full funding details for 30-hour provision were finalised.

'Costs rising'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, has long said many of those providing care for three and four-year-olds would be unwilling to deliver the 30-hour offer without extra funding.

"What's most alarming is that these figures were gathered at a time when many providers thought they would be receiving close to the average funding rate of £4.88 per hour," he said.

"With final rates currently being confirmed across the country, and many providers discovering that they'll be receiving significantly less, we would expect the number of settings opting out of the 30-hour offer to be even higher than these statistics suggest."

Local authorities are currently telling their local providers how much they will be paying.

Mr Leitch added that the fact that rates were being frozen until 2020 could make things worse because costs such as wages, rents and mortgages were likely to increase significantly.

Numbers underestimated

The DfE data shows that there are currently 22,700 pre-schools and nurseries offering 15 hours of free entitlement.

But only 14,600 pre-schools and nurseries say they definitely plan to offer the 30 hours.

Meanwhile 8,200 primary schools with nurseries currently offer the 15 hours, but only 3,900 say they intend to offer 30 hours.

In addition, 350 maintained nursery schools plan to offer the 30 hours, compared with 400 that currently offer the 15 hours.

The only provider type likely to see an increase is childminders, with 25,400 planning to offer the 30 hours, compared with 23,600 who currently offer the 15 hours.

The figures come not long after research suggested the DfE had significantly underestimated the number of children likely to be eligible for the extra hours offer.

But they also suggest that 60% of larger, group-based providers intend to offer the 30 hours.

The DfE said in a statement: "Since this survey was conducted, we have published our Early Years National Funding Formula, which will see increased hourly funding rates for the vast majority of providers and our Early Implementers are now successfully delivering the offer a year early."

A minimum funding level of £4.30 per hour has since been set centrally.

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