Childcare expansion under threat

    The increase in childcare places created by the
    government’s National Childcare Strategy may be
    unsustainable, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

    Much existing early years provision, especially new provision,
    may not be viable says the NAO, the government’s official
    auditors. Only half of the new providers who  had started up using
    government funding knew what they would do when the start up
    funding ended. Many providers fail to cover their costs and
    significant numbers don’t have a good enough understanding of
    their costs to judge whether their future is secure.

    Although 626,000 new places have been created from the launch of
    the measures, there has been a net increase in pre-school places of
    only 96,000. This is because more than 300,000 places have closed,
    and most of the new places created have been in out of school and
    holiday provision, mainly funded by the lottery’s New
    Opportunities Fund.

    Further growth in the sector is being blocked by lack of the
    size of premises, and the size of the workforce. The
    government’s target of 8 to 10 per cent a year growth in the
    workforce is not being achieved.

    Despite increases in the total number of places, there are big
    local variations, and few providers are able to care for disabled
    children.
    Although disadvantaged children get most benefit from good early
    years services, there is less provision in the most deprived wards
    than in other areas. This is being addressed by the commitment to
    create children’s centres in these wards.

    The NAO says the Department for Education and Skills is on
    course to provide free part-time early education places for all
    ther and four year olds whose parents want it this year.

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