As many as 50,000 children could miss out on a place on the government’s upcoming free childcare scheme.
From September parents of three and four year-olds will be eligible for 30 hours’ worth of childcare each week at no charge. The Department for Education estimates that around 390,000 children will qualify for a place on the programme.
However a survey of nurseries by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has hinted that the rollout may not go smoothly. The NDNA found that 22 per cent of those polled said their facility would not offer free places while a further 35 per cent were undecided.
Only 43 per cent of nurseries were expecting to make a profit in 2017, with a vast majority – 83 per cent – planning to raise their fees in order to survive.
NDNA Chief Executive Purnima Tanuku said there was “no such thing as ‘free’ childcare [because] parents, nurseries and their staff are all paying for this”. She claimed the government was “relying on the private and voluntary sector to meet expected high demand” as the scheme was underfunded.
Nurseries must be allowed “to make mandatory charges to parents for extras over and above childcare, such as meals, activities and trips out” Tanuku insisted, because “you can’t run a sustainable nursery business on voluntary charges”. People who run nurseries are afraid this policy will put them “into financial difficulties and could even go out of business” she added.
Pilot schemes have already begun for the programme in eight areas throughout the country. These have proven more popular than the government anticipated. With a target of 5,000 places to fill, 5,400 have already been allocated in those areas.
Read the full NDNA survey results here.