According to the Department for Education, demand from parents for the 30 hours free childcare in the eight council areas taking part in the pilot scheme has ‘tipped the scales’, with more than 5,400 places already allocated – surpassing the 5,000 target set last year.
The eight council areas that have been piloting the scheme since last September are Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon, Wigan and York.
A further four councils - Dorset, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets - will start offering the 30 hours for three- and four-year-olds from next week, ahead of the national roll-out in September.
Early years minister Caroline Dinenage said, ‘I have heard so many stories from parents whose lives have been improved by access to 30 hours, taking away the financial stress of accessing high-quality childcare and offering them the flexibility their families need.
‘It’s thanks to the creativity and dedication of the professionals already delivering 30 hours that parents are getting this huge boost, backed by our record investment of £6 billion per year by 2020. The hard work of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, as well as the eight early implementer councils, is opening doors for parents who previously felt like they were working just to pay for childcare.’
Maureen Whitfield, early years and childcare lead at Dorset County Council, which will start piloting the extended entitlement from next week, said, ‘We’re really excited that Dorset is part of the early roll-out of the 30 hours free childcare. More than 3,500 parents have expressed an interest in so far, which is great. We will work closely with our childcare providers to help make sure the scheme is a success - both for early years settings and families across Dorset.’
Responding to the announcement from the DfE, the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said that the Government should not raise parents' expectations on 30 hours without addressing the challenges.
Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, 'Nurseries want the 30-hour policy to succeed, so it’s good news that the Government’s targets for the pilots have been exceeded.
'However, all but one of these pilots were very small and well supported. They don’t represent mainstream childcare and will not be able to address the general day-to-day issues which will arise from offering 30 hours of funded childcare.
'The pilot in York was different as all providers and all eligible children were involved. York City Council worked closely with nurseries, allowing them to charge parents for extras such as meals in order to balance their books. The DfE says that nurseries cannot do this as a condition of a funded place.
'Most funding rates now being announced by local authorities will still not cover costs for the majority of nurseries. These new rates are also being fixed to 2020, despite rising costs such as business rates and National Living Wage and Minimum Wage and inflation.
'Nurseries in some areas are seeing funding cuts, such as Staffordshire where the hourly rate for the current pilot is £4 but this will be reduced to £3.85 for the full roll-out.'
'We are concerned that the pilots are not fully testing all the aspects of 30 hours of "free" childcare and that serious issues will arise when this is rolled out nationally in September.'
She concluded, 'The Government needs to give providers more flexibility on how they offer their key election pledge so they can develop business models that allows them to recover funding shortfalls and remain sustainable.'
The results of a Pre-school Learning Alliance online survey, published today, find that as of last week less than half of childcare providers currently plan to deliver the 30 hours.