85,000 new childcare places needed for flagship offer, says Government

Around 85,000 new childcare places will be needed by September 2025 for the expansion of funded childcare for working parents in England, the Government has estimated.

A pilot will start this summer which will explore how unused school space could be repurposed to support childcare settings to offer more places in a bid to increase capacity, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

If successful, the Government will roll the scheme out widely ahead of the final phase of its expanded offer of funded childcare for eligible families of children as young as nine months old across England in September next year.

As part of a staggered rollout of the childcare policy, working parents of two-year-olds have been able to access 15 hours of funded childcare this month.

This will be extended to working parents of all children older than nine months from September this year, before the full rollout of 30 hours a week to all eligible families a year later.

On Friday, the DfE published projections for the extra places and staff needed for the full rollout of its flagship childcare offer.

It estimates that 40,000 additional staff, compared with 2023, are required by September 2025.

It adds that 15,000 new childcare places will be needed for this September, and a further 70,000 more places are likely to be needed for September 2025.

As of Thursday, nearly four in five (79%) of the codes issued to eligible parents of two-year-olds across England to secure childcare funding for this month have been validated by providers.

The DfE believes thousands more will have their places confirmed over the coming weeks.

But it added that it expects some eligibility codes to go unused as parents change their mind about formal childcare, or if they were issued a code even though they did not need one.

The latest data, set to be published on Monday, will reveal that 195,355 two-year-olds are already benefiting from Government-funded places.

All local authorities have reported they are currently meeting the demand from parents for childcare places, according to the DfE.

Parents with a preferred provider are being urged to secure their place for September now, ahead of when applications open for eligible working parents of younger children on May 12.

The Government has updated the process to make sure all eligible working parents can apply regardless of whether they are in work or on parental leave.

As long as a parent plans to return to work or start a new job by the end of September, they will now be able to apply for their childcare code in May at the same time as everyone else, the DfE said.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We are transforming childcare in this country to deliver the support that hard-working parents deserve.

“As today’s figures show, our plan is working. Thousands of parents are returning to work, and tens of thousands more will be able to do so later this year and next.

“Childcare expansion on this scale is unprecedented in this country, and we will continue providing maximum support to nurseries and all providers to make it a reality.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “With Government admitting not only that 40,000 additional educators are required by September 2025 but also 85,000 new places, it’s clear that, regardless of the positive spin Government is trying to put on the current situation, the challenge facing the sector is an immense one.

“Even for a healthy sector, rolling out such an ambitious scheme would have been a tall order – but of course, our early years sector was already incredibly fragile coming into this policy.

“If the Government is to have any hope of rolling out this offer successfully in the long term, it’s crucial that ministers acknowledge and tackle the fundamental issues facing nurseries, pre-schools and providers.

“That means a comprehensive workforce strategy that focuses on retention as well as recruitment, and crucially, funding that reflects delivery costs, both now and in the future.”

Jonathan Broadbery, director of policy and communications at the National Day Nurseries Association, said many nurseries have waiting lists.

He said: “Nurseries are working hard to deliver the existing offer, but creating additional places for under-twos can be very challenging.”

Mr Broadbery added: “With high staff turnover as well, it is clear that the sector will need to recruit more than the 40,000 staff needed if we are also to replace those who leave.

“The pilots in schools and colleges present opportunities to expand the number of places but this must be done in partnership with existing providers, avoid duplication that would threaten established provision and we have to put children’s needs first in ensuring these environments are right for babies and toddlers.”

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “The Education Secretary’s crowing will be cold comfort for the parents who cannot get the childcare they need and the nursery groups saying that they have been set up to fail with Government promises that do not add up.

“Today the Conservatives have admitted that the Government needs to deliver thousands more childcare places and tens of thousands more staff but has no clear plan to do so.

“The Conservatives rushed out a pledge without a plan to deliver it.

“Labour is determined to ensure families can actually access the childcare that they need.

“That’s why we’ve commissioned former Ofsted chief inspector Sir David Bell to advise on ensuring available, affordable childcare is available to families.”