The number of parents who want to take advantage of a pilot scheme offering 30 hours of free childcare per week is higher than expected.
The scheme is available to parents of three and four year-olds. The pilot is currently running in eight areas before a national roll-out which is expected to begin in September. These local authorities are in York, Hertfordshire, Newham, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Staffordshire, Swindon and Wigan.
These councils were given a target of 5,000 places for the scheme but the Department for Education has revealed that more than 5,400 have already been allocated.
Early Years Minister Caroline Dinenage said she had “heard so many stories from parents whose lives have been improved by access to 30 hours” of childcare.
“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.”
Councils in North Yorkshire, Tower Hamlets, Dorset and Leicestershire are set to begin implementing the 30-hour childcare system next week. Maureen Whitfield is the early years and childcare lead at Dorset County Council. She said they were “excited” to be part of the early roll out and claimed that “more than 3,500 parents have expressed an interest … so far, which is great”. The council will “work closely with our childcare providers to help make sure the scheme is a success” Whitfield said.
However not everyone is as optimistic about the scheme. Last month, a nursery owner in York said participating in the pilot would amount to “economic suicide”. The money nurseries receive from the government would not even cover the basics needed to provide quality childcare Helen Gration insisted, adding that it was “not acceptable that we are being forced to cover the shortfall”.