Ahead of the Government’s roll-out of major expansion to free early education entitlements from April 2024, local authorities across England have indicated concerns about having sufficient childcare places to meet demand, in new research published by Coram Family and Childcare today.
Whilst 60% of local authorities are ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that there will be enough places to meet demand for the April 2024 expansion (15 free hours for two-year-olds), just 27% of local authorities say the same about the expansion from September 2024 (15 free hours from nine months), and this falls to just 12% for the September 2025 expansion (30 hours from nine months).
Today’s report reveals the factors that local authorities see as barriers to successful delivery of the 30 hours free entitlements in 2025, with the vast majority (88%) identifying the local childcare workforce as a ‘barrier’, reflecting the significant ongoing challenges to recruit and retain staff.
Adequate provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was also highlighted as a major concern, with 64% of local authorities identifying ‘sufficiency of childcare places for children with SEND’ and 55% seeing ‘funding to support children with SEND’ as barriers to successful delivery.
Local authorities were also concerned about how the roll-out of the 30 hours expansion will impact availability of the universal 15-hour entitlement for three and four-year-olds and disadvantaged two-year-olds.
For three and four-year-old entitlements, 35% of local authorities expect that fewer families will be able to take up their places without any charge, and 34% expect fewer places to be available for children with SEND.
For the disadvantaged two-year-old entitlements, nearly half of local authorities expect there to be fewer available places overall, and a third that fewer families will be able to take up their places without any charge, and 33% expect fewer places to be available for children with SEND, as the 30 hours expansion rolls out.
Ellen Broomé, Head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “The coming months will be a crucial time in the sector as we prepare for the implementation of the government’s welcome extension of childcare support. These new entitlements have huge potential to support more parents – particularly mothers – to return to work and to boost outcomes for more children.
“Therefore, whilst it is encouraging that three-fifths of local authorities feel confident about the roll-out in April, we are concerned there may be issues for families further down the line in accessing the childcare they need, as well as ongoing challenges in the sector that could impact the successful delivery of this extended support in the coming year. These issues – including the challenges around recruitment and retention, and funding rates – need to be addressed urgently, and childcare providers fully supported to manage this extension, so that every child is able to access the high quality early years education they are entitled to, and all parents can make meaningful choices about work and care.”