London nurseries £8m fund to boost longer opening hours and places

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School nurseries in London will share an £8m fund designed to encourage them to open from 8am to 6pm and offer more free early education places for children from two upwards.

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Boris Johnson and Liz Truss at Ephraim Nursery in Peckham

Private and voluntary providers will also be able to apply to local authorities for match-funding to expand their premises and open new sites through the relaxation of planning laws.

The funding, announced on Thursday by education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss at Ephraim Nursery in Peckham, is a joint initiative with the Mayor of London.

Parents in the capital face some of the highest childcare costs in the country, which ministers say accounts for London having one of the lowest maternal employment rates in England.

Ms Truss said, ‘We want to see more school nurseries open from 8am to 6pm, giving working parents greater flexibility and choice. We also want good private sector providers to expand, with councils offering match-funded capital so they can take advantage of new planning freedoms.

‘School nurseries already provide almost 50 per cent of the three- and four-year-old places for London children, but often sit empty for parts of the day when they could help. This new approach will help more schools, nurseries and childminders offer places at the times we know parents need them.’

London Mayor Boris Johnson said, ‘High-quality childcare is vital to our economy and this fund will be a boost for hard working families in the capital. We want London parents to have access to affordable, flexible provision and this fund will also help ensure disadvantaged children get the best start in life.’

Wandsworth Council wants to encourage more schools to open from 8am to 6pm, rather than 9am to 3pm.

Wandsworth councillor Kathy Tracey said, ‘We want to take a more creative approach to how we deliver early education places in our area, so we can deliver services parents need at the times and in the places they want them.’

However, Labour said that a Freedom of Information request – with a response from 28 out of 33 councils – showed that half of London councils do not have enough places for disadvantaged twos.

Lucy Powell, shadow minister for childcare and children, said, ‘Families in London face a childcare crunch of David Cameron and Boris Johnson’s own making with costs up, places down and cuts in financial support, while half of London councils say they don’t have enough childcare places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

‘Labour will give a parents a primary childcare guarantee of wraparound care from 8am-6pm and expand free childcare for three- and four-year-olds with working parents from 15 to 25 hours, worth £1,500 per child.’

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) warned the funding must be used wisely to ensure two-year-old places are sustainable.

In a report for the London Assembly on childcare the NDNA said nurseries were providing free hours by effectively subsidising the system. Its latest member survey found that 56 per cent of nurseries offering twos places in the South of England, including London, were losing an average of £1.74 per child per hour.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said two-year-old places would be in ‘high demand’ because London has a fast-growing population with large pockets of disadvantage.
‘London has more than 2,500 nurseries and they have a role to play in making sure London’s disadvantaged two-year-olds have opportunities.

‘Nurseries are specifically designed for the youngest children to receive the specialist care they need. Two-year-olds are likely to still be in nappies, have developing communication skills and need the attention of a key person a high staff-to-child ratio.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘While the Government is keen to encourage more schools to offer provision for London’s youngest children, this should only be done where the environment and provision is suitable and of sufficiently high quality and appropriate to their care and development.

‘If the funding supports flexibility in provision, this will help parents juggle work and family responsibilities, but it must be remembered that the primary importance of childcare is that children benefit from high-quality provision.’