Parents told ‘act now’ to get free childcare ahead of May date

By Staff

Parents are being encouraged to act now to secure a place at their preferred childcare setting in September as some providers have long waiting lists. Applications will open on May 12 for the second wave of the rollout of reforms expanding the amount of funded childcare available to families, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

Eligible working parents of children as young as nine months old in England – who can claim 15 hours of funded childcare a week from September – have been encouraged to plan ahead. Concerns have been raised that many childcare providers will struggle to meet increased demand for funded places under the Government’s expanded offer.

The DfE said places will be available for September in every area of the country, but a significant minority of settings hold waiting lists more than six months long. Parents with young children have been encouraged to act now and reach out to their preferred childcare provider to secure a physical place for September.

A consultation – on how the Government can improve the recruitment and retention of childminders in the country – will also launch on Friday. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, last year, announced that eligible families of children as young as nine months old in England would be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by September 2025.

As part of a staggered rollout of the policy, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare from next month. This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout a year later.

The Government has urged childcare providers to communicate available Government-funded places as soon as possible. Parents with concerns about finding a place should contact their local authorities, the DfE said.

All 153 local authorities in England have shared funding rates for the new entitlements starting in a fortnight, according to the DfE. It comes after a number of childcare providers struggled to commit to offering funded places to families ahead of the first wave of the rollout this spring as they were in the dark about funding rates.

Early years sector leaders have also warned that staff shortages will make it difficult for the sector to deliver the childcare expansion. The DfE has said a new consultation, which is being launched on Friday, will ask childminders, parents, providers and councils what the government can do to support more childminders to join and stay in the profession.

Proposed changes include local authorities paying childminders monthly if they request it so they can better manage their finances – which could be extended to other early years providers if supported. Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “Given the challenges that we have seen parents and childcare providers facing ahead of the April expansion, we’re pleased that the Government has started to communicate early for the September rollout.”

She added: “Childcare providers have been working really hard to make a success of this policy despite the challenges of underfunding and a deepening workforce crisis.

“We know from recent research with nurseries that 75% said they had waiting lists for children under three and 56% said there was unmet demand in their local area. While it is important for parents to ask about available future places locally, we would urge them to be aware that childcare settings will be prioritising supporting the delivery of places for the April rollout, so they may not hear back straight away.”

Joeli Brearley, founder of the Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) charity, said: “The sector is in decline. Increasing demand whilst supply dwindles inevitably means many families will miss out on their promised entitlements. Right now, there isn’t a plan to grow supply. Without one, there will be a large number of furious parents in September, who are forced to make decisions which will negatively impact their income and their career.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Last year, we committed to delivering the largest ever expansion of childcare that England has ever seen. And with over 150,000 children about to begin accessing a Government-funded childcare place in just over two weeks, it’s clear our plan is working.

“This Government has a track record of transforming childcare, with the offer of 30 hours for three and four-year-olds for eligible working parents introduced in 2017. We are now going further, giving hard working parents of under threes the certainty they deserve to balance growing their families with a successful and rewarding career, saving parents up to an average of £6,900 a year for the full 30 hours.”

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “These are yet more warnings that the Chancellor’s botched childcare pledge without a plan could see families miss out on the places they’re entitled to. 14 years of Tory rule has wrecked our early years system, driving up prices and leading to childcare deserts where vital places are scarce.

“Labour will deliver a reformed early years system for the long term that better supports families from the end of parental leave till the end of primary school.”

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