A new report by a charity warns that the soaring birth rate in England is likely to cause problems for primary schools and nursery education. According to research produced by 4Children, the government has underestimated effects of rising birth and poverty rates on its latest childcare initiative, writes Tracy McVeigh of The Guardian.
The government recently announced plans for free childcare for toddlers in the poorest families. Under the plan, families in England earning less than £16,190 a year would be entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare provision for their two-year-olds beginning next September. The plan covers around 40% of the age group — double the present number entitled.
According to the research, the rising birth rate, which is already causing a crisis in the provision of primary school places in England, would affect nursery education as the government’s plans did not consider a shortfall in numbers of staff and a rise in eligibility.
The 4Children figures shows that each English local authority will need to employ an average of 51 more childcare workers each year to keep pace with demand over the next five years as poverty rates rise. The data also shows that an additional 7,795 childcare professionals will need to join the current early years workforce, including childminders and nursery staff.
On average an extra 31,880 two-year-olds will become eligible for free childcare places each year – on top of those the government has already planned for. The figures correlate with those released in research earlier in the week by the Local Government Association showing a growing demand for primary school places due to rising population.
The government plans to invest £534 million in free childcare for two-year-olds, rising to £760 million next year. The plans are an add-on to the 15 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds cleared by the last Labour government. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research estimate, 25 hours of free care for one- to four-year-olds would earn the government £20,050 in tax revenue over four years from each mother returning to full-time work after maternity leave.
Anne Longfield, 4Children’s chief executive, said the organization supports the fact that “the government has made early education such a priority.
“But our research shows clearly we cannot afford to take our foot off the accelerator. The primary school crisis shows how people haven’t been planning ahead and missing vital signs of what’s happening in our population. We can’t afford for that to happen with early years [education], we have to recognize the long-term growth in this area. We have to recruit young people into what is a rewarding career in childcare provision and we have to make sure the budgets are there to cover the immense developments happening in our population.”
Longfield added that England is set for a 200,000 shortfall in childcare places for two-, three- and four-year-olds by 2018, which means the government must work to increase the number of childcare providers.
“Finally, government must be absolutely clear that they will only fund high-quality childcare providers to deliver this programme. Evidence shows it is only high-quality care that can deliver the impact for children that this programme aspires to.”