Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests by Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s shadow minister for childcare and children, shows that 43 per cent of councils will be unable to offer sufficient nursery and childminder places for 40 per cent of two-year-olds.
Lucy Powell MP said, ‘Despite plenty of warning, the Government is way off track in delivering its flagship childcare policy for two-year-olds. David Cameron promised 260,000 parents and children a free 15-hour place this September, yet with just three months to go Ministers are failing to deliver. Nearly half of councils lack sufficient places; and two thirds of council’s don’t have enough quality places to make the biggest difference to children’s life chances.’
Forty-three per cent of local authorities will not have sufficient places, with a shortfall forecast of 48,618 places.
During education questions in Parliament on Monday, education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss revealed that 116,000 two-year-olds have taken up the places so far. However, this is 14,000 places short of the pledge to offer 130,000 places for 20 per cent of twos, who became eligible for the places last September.
Labour’s figures also reveal that currently around two-thirds of local authorities do not have places in good or outstanding settings for those two-year-olds that became eligible for a place last year.
Ministers have previously said they are committed to ensuring that the two-year-old places should primarily be funded with good or outstanding nurseries and childminders.
June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation, said, ‘We have always said that while we support the policy we do believe that it is a laudable ambition to push this offer; we feel that it has been a case of “too much, too soon.” The offer needs to be funded correctly and childcare needs to be provided in the right environment.
‘We must think about what is important for the child first and we need to invest in the right staff.’
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘The introduction of the free entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds holds real potential to turn around the life chances of our most vulnerable children. To meet the additional demand when the programme is extended in September, local authorities must work closely with the voluntary sector to expand provision and raise quality to make this hugely important ambition a reality. Expansion of this scale is a challenge and Government will need to work tirelessly to ensure it happens.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said, 'It is especially worrying that two thirds of councils do not have enough quality childcare places for disadvantaged two year olds, as we know that high quality childcare provision is one of the most effective ways to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds a positive start in life.
'We know that there are existing difficulties in helping childcare professionals – especially childminders – to receive the appropriate funding support to deliver the free entitlement. We await plans on how the Government intends to address the current shortfall in high quality childcare provision for two year olds so that all children and families can access the high quality support they deserve.’
The Pre-school Learning Alliance said that ongoing issues around under-funding were putting the two-year-old offer at risk. It pointed to figures from a recent survey carried out by the Alliance, which found that providers were limiting the number of two-year-old places on offer, or were unable to offer them at all, because of inadequate funding.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said, 'We are greatly concerned to hear of such a substantial shortfall in two-year-old places less than three months before the expansion of the scheme. All children should have access to high-quality early years provision, and this is particularly vital for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
'The continued lack of adequate Government funding is putting the long-term sustainability of the two-year-old offer at risk. The majority of early years providers delivering funded places do not receive enough funding to cover costs, and so it’s not surprising that local authorities are struggling to meet the Government’s targets.'
'The Government cannot simply label this a problem for local authorities. It is their responsibility to deliver on the promise they made to deliver sufficient high-quality funded places by September 2014 and to do so, they simply must invest more.'
Mr Leitch also said that providing places in schools was not the solution.
'If the Government wants to ensure that these children are given the best start in life, they need to provide greater support for the existing network of experienced, age-appropriate group settings and childminders to deliver these places.'
Labour has said that it would extend the entitlement for three- and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week and introduce a primary childcare guarantee for families.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'Thanks to our reforms, 116,000 of the two-year-olds currently eligible are already accessing a funded early learning place. This is an option for parents and we would encourage all of those eligible to take this offer up.
'And with over 300,000 places available across the country, there are places for eligible two-year-olds whose parents want to take up the offer – in fact local authorities should be playing an active role in ensuring parents are aware of their entitlement.
'The quality of early education and childcare is also improving - with nearly 90 per cent of providers delivering places rated good or outstanding. We are also making it easier for school nurseries to open from 8am – 6pm and for high quality private nurseries to expand – offering much needed flexibility to parents.'