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Look out for a possible mass exodus of early years providers

Through several years of providing the free entitlement for four-year-olds, then three-year-olds, often at a financial cost to themselves, private and voluntary settings have voiced their concerns, protested and lobbied at the rate of funding - but the vast majority have stuck with the Government programme.

Even the prospect of the single funding formula and the extension of the free entitlement to 15 hours seemed to have produced little fall-out, until now. After all, early years settings have been caught between a rock and a hard place, losing income by offering the free places, but possibly likely to lose more if they refuse. That might all be about to change as the extension rolls out this year and local authorities delay or become pathfinders for the single funding formula. For some settings, faced with going out of business under the new code of practice, it now looks preferable to pull out of the scheme.

Our exclusive story this week (News, page 4) reports on a group of Buckinghamshire pre-schools who are threatening to withdraw around 1,000 places between them because providing every parent with 15 hours of care on a flexible basis will threaten their existence.

And in Poole, voluntary settings are signing petitions to try to stop the council implementing the funding formula at a rate of 70p less than this year's.

Anecdotally, there are nursery owners around the country who are considering opting out of the free entitlement. The floodgates could be about to open.

Many parents rely on the entitlement to afford childcare. With 11,000 places lost in the past three months (News, page 3) already, promises to provide affordable, accessible childcare for every family are looking ever more unachievable.

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