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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 November 2007, 16:46 GMT
Free nursery place scheme grows
Children on climbing frame
Ministers hope day care will help parents go back to work
Extra funding has been announced to give three and four-year-olds in England more free nursery education.

Children's Minister Beverley Hughes has pledged 340m to extend the entitlement from 12.5 to 15 hours a week.

The expansion will be rolled out across the country over three years, with poor families being targeted first. The 15 hours is available in 20 areas already.

The government believes early learning is crucial in fighting deprivation and breaking cycles of under-achievement.

Beverley Hughes said: "Free nursery education is essential to supporting high quality early learning and care for children and to meet the needs of today's parents for flexible childcare.

"Children deserve the best start in life and nursery education helps them in the long term by boosting their communication, language and social skills.

"It is available to all those who want it and I hope to see even more children benefiting from the free hours.

"It also allows parents to sample childcare as a route back to work and training."

Twenty local authorities already offer 15 hours of free nursery education and others are ear-marked to do so from next September.

The government says the number of childcare places has doubled since 1997 to 1.3 million.

Shadow Families Minister Maria Miller said: "Extending help to those who need it and providing easier access to higher quality childcare is a critical government aspiration that we support.

"Implementation has been flawed, and the government must swiftly tackle the underlying problem that one in four families is being asked to pay for nursery places which should be free.

"As well as extending entitlement, we must ensure that private, voluntary and independent nurseries are not penalised." A report for the Day Care Trust last month said some nurseries said they had to charge top-up fees because government funding was not enough to cover the cost of provision.

Tricia Pritchard, from the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses welcomed the announcement, but said: "We hope that this funding will be sufficient to meet the costs of providing free entitlement, as this has been a problem for some providers.

"It is also crucial that there are sufficient numbers of trained and qualified staff available to deliver the provision. Unfortunately, childcare is a low wage profession, which isn't an incentive to recruitment."



SEE ALSO
Parents 'pay for free childcare'
09 Oct 07 |  Education
Fall in 'good' childcare places
28 Aug 07 |  Education
Pre-school policies 'lack impact'
28 Aug 07 |  Education

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