Essex free nursery places shortage warning

Children playing Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Two-year-olds have very different needs from infant school pupils

About 900 children could miss out on free nursery places in Essex because of a shortage of spaces, it has emerged.

From September, the government's free nursery places scheme will be expanded.

It means nearly 5,300 two-year-olds in the county will be eligible for a state-funded space.

Michael Freeston, of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the nursery places in Essex were not available where they were most needed.

The changes, due in September, will grant funded places for two year olds in the bottom 40% of disadvantaged families, rather than the lowest 20% as at present.

Nationally, it will mean the number of part-time places pledged to England's most disadvantaged two-year-olds will rise from 130,000 to 260,000.

'Working hard'

The Department for Education said councils had a "statutory duty to make sure every eligible family that asks for a place receives one".

Essex County Council has told BBC Essex it believes there will be a shortfall of about 900 places.

Mr Freeston said the Essex situation was reflected nationally, with about two thirds of local authorities saying they would have "difficulty in finding spaces in good or outstanding settings".

Felicia Adeyinka, who runs Jack and Jill's nursery in Harlow, said while she was able to offer the funded places for two-year-olds she knew of others which did not because of the extra care toddlers required.

Ray Gooding, Essex County Council cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, said the authority was "working hard" to make sure as many places as possible were available in areas that needed them.

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