Govt's funded childcare rollout branded 'really ambitious game' - as '85,000 new places needed'

About 85,000 places need to be created for the expansion of funded childcare by September 2025, the government has estimated - but campaigners warned the scheme is a "really ambitious game".

While publishing projections of how many more staff and places would be needed to meet the government's plans for extended childcare, the Department for Education (DfE) also estimated an additional 40,000 staff would have to be hired by September 2025 - compared with 2023.

A pilot will be launched in the summer to explore how unused spaces in schools could be adopted as childcare settings, the DfE said.

The planned childcare policy would see working families in England having access to 30 hours of free childcare per week for children aged between nine months and four years old, where all adults in the household work at least 16 hours.

The policy had previously only applied to the parents of three and four-year-olds.

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.

Shannon Pite, communications and external affairs director at the Early Years Alliance, described the government's phased free childcare expansion as a "really ambitious game" which is merely putting yet more strain on an already "grossly underfunded" sector.

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"Going forward with the next stage of the rollout we're going to see the need for a lot more newly created places and that's when we're going to have the real crunch point of not having the capacity that we need in the sector," she told Sky News.

Ms Pite said hiring and retaining staff was "the key issue", particularly educators caring for under two-year-olds who need a "particular experience in looking after babies".

"It's not as simple as magicking up places, it's not as simple as magicking up staff, there is so much work to do and we're nowhere near where we need to be".

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

The DfE estimates 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.

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."