Today sees the start of free childcare for 130,000 2 year olds, and the government has announced that this figure will double by September next year for families that earn less than £16,910 a year and receive working tax credits
Children who are in care, adopted, disabled or have a disability or special educational needs will also benefit from next year.
Mr Clegg gave details in a speech today, stressing that the government is helping more children achieve a ‘brighter start in life’
He stated: ‘All the evidence shows that if you take two children – two five-year-olds hanging up their coats next to each other on the first day of school – the poorer child will already be behind their better off classmate before a single lesson has been taught.
‘Without this help, children suffer and the whole class suffers as teachers have to focus more of their efforts on children who are frustrated and left behind through no fault of their own.
‘I believe that every British family, whatever its structure, background and circumstances, should be able to get on in life.’
Ten trial regions were introduced last year including Blackpool, Cornwall, Greenwich, Kent, Lambeth and Newcastle, affecting almost 1,000 two-year-olds.
Mr Clegg decided that parents would be given the option to spread their free nursery place over two days, rather than three, and to use the free hours between 7am and 7pm rather than 8am to 6pm. This was intended to make it easier to fit the childcare around working lives.
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There are, however, concerns that the budget will not increase to meet the demand as the Government will spend £534m on the scheme this year but only £760m in 2014.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance has voiced concerns, and Chief executive Neil Leitch said: “This is a tremendous initiative that will help to support young children who statistically run the risk of being marginalised throughout their entire life.”
He warned: “Our fear is that should this well-intentioned initiative be grossly under-funded, the Deputy Prime Minister will not achieve the brighter start in life for these children that he wants.”
Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, shared concerns, and pointed out that nursery closures could impact the delivery of free childcare.
“We are concerned that loss of nursery provision in children’s centres is impacting on local authorities’ ability to find sufficient places for the offer. New research by the Family and Childcare Trust, to be published later this month, indicates that a minimum of 108 nurseries across England have closed or were never commissioned as they were supposed to be,” he said.