Extra 85,000 childcare places needed in England to meet government target

Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

An extra 85,000 new places for infants are needed in England to fulfil the UK government’s childcare expansion package by next September, according to its own estimates. 

The Department for Education said on Friday that ministers would launch a pilot scheme to explore whether empty school space could be repurposed in order to boost capacity in a sector struggling with increased demand.

“What we are not talking about is putting lots of childcare into schools”, David Johnston, minister for children, told the Financial Times. 

“We are looking at using that space for expanding providers and using some of the empty space sitting there and repurposing it for childcare where there is the need,” he added.

As of April 1, the 30 hours of free care a week for three- and four-year-olds in England is being widened gradually to all infants over nine months who have two working parents earning at least the equivalent of a 16-hour minimum wage job.

However, childcare providers have warned that they lack the resources needed to deliver the measures owing to a crippling mix of rising costs and years of underfunding.

Government estimates released on Friday show an additional 15,000 new childcare places will be needed by this September, with a further 70,000 required before September 2025.

Many experts also fear that a sector with chronic low pay and high staff turnover will struggle to hire or keep the workers needed to create new places, despite a government pilot scheme offering £1,000 sign-on bonuses in the most stretched parts of England.  

According to the government’s projections for staff needed to implement the full rollout of the policy, announced in the spring Budget last year, some 40,000 more will need to be recruited by September 2025.

Vacancies in childcare have rocketed, with recent data from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation trade body showing job adverts for practitioner roles in the UK doubled between the start of 2022 and 2024.

“We are pulling every lever to make sure we have the staff available”, Johnston said. “We have a massive new recruitment campaign and financial incentives.”

The DfE said on Friday that 195,355 two-year-olds were accessing the new government-funded places. Officials added that local authorities had reported they were meeting the demand for childcare in their areas. 

Sarah Ronan, director of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition advocacy group, said the figures painted “a positive picture” but did not “reflect what we are seeing on the ground”.

“We still don’t think they have taken into consideration the reasons people are leaving the profession,” said Ronan. “What we still haven’t seen is any inkling of a workforce strategy and they are doing very little to retain the people who are leaving.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, an educational charity and membership group, also called for a comprehensive workforce strategy focused on retention as well as recruitment. 

“It’s clear that, regardless of the positive spin the government is trying to put on the current situation, the challenge facing the sector is an immense one,” he said.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.