Plans to make free nursery education more flexible for parents put nurseries under pressure

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, July 11, 2011

Proposals to make the free entitlement more flexible for parents were revealed this week.

Children's minister Sarah Teather confirmed that the Government will consult in the autumn on proposals to extend the free entitlement, to allow parents to take 15 hours over a minimum of two days a week and over longer hours, from 7am to 7pm.

Currently, parents taking the full 15 hours must do so over a minimum of three days.

Ms Teather could face strong opposition to the plan from private and voluntary nurseries, which say issues with funding shortfalls should be resolved first.

Kate Peach, managing director of Early Years Childcare, said she was 'shocked'. 'It puts us under far more pressure, when we are already struggling with funding and other issues, such as VAT and the cost of staff. Until funding is addressed, this could make it far worse for providers.'

She said opening outside the core hours of 8-6 increases costs, because staff would need to be paid more and that Sarah Teather was giving out 'confusing messages' by saying the move to increase flexibility for the free entitlement was to make it easier for parents to work.

'The minister needs to clearly explain what the free entitlement is for: is it to help working parents, or is it to provide high-quality early years education?'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, 'Increased flexibility sounds good in theory. But we would like to see it done in partnership with the sector so it won't undermine sustainability of settings.'

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