Gillian Keegan: I’m confident of 15 hours of free childcare by April

Posted: 5th February 2024

The education secretary has said she is “confident” free childcare for two-year-olds in England will be ready in time for its April rollout.

Gillian Keegan told the BBC she would “deliver” the pledge for 15 hours per week free childcare to working parents.

She initially said she was “pretty confident” of delivering the hours, but later said she was “very confident”.

Ms Keegan did not confirm if the scheme would be ready for all eligible parents.

Campaigners have said the government is in “total denial” of technical problems and delays in recruiting staff.

From April, working parents of two-year-olds will get 15 hours per week during term time, with children from nine months included from September.

Working parents of children under five will be entitled to 30 hours’ free childcare per week when the scheme is fully rolled out from September 2025.

Following reports the scheme was under threat due to under recruitment of staff and problems in the rollout, the education department said it had fixed an IT issue.

Ms Keegan said the department was “working through thousands and thousands of businesses” to get the scheme up and running.

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Ms Keegan said she was “pretty confident” it would happen as plan, before upgrading her assessment to “very confident”.

But when asked earlier on Sky News programme Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips to guarantee the commitment will be met, Ms Keegan said: “Guaranteeing something in the future is something that you can never do.

“I am really confident that all the things that we have done will mean that every parent who wants to have a place is going to have a place.”

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, called the response “another broken Tory promise”.

In a social media post, Ms Phillipson said: “The Education Secretary has made it clear. There are no guarantees that parents will receive their new childcare hours.”

Labour have trailed plans to boost childcare with thousands of new nursery places in primary schools, commissioning former head of Ofsted Sir David Bell to help find new ways to increase levels of childcare provision.

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Who is eligible for 15 hours of free childcare for two-year-olds?

Some two-year-olds in England are already eligible for 15 hours per week of government-funded childcare during term time under certain circumstances, for example if the family receives universal credit.

All three and four-year-olds are already entitled to 15 hours of childcare which can be used in private nurseries, state-run pre-schools or childminders.

The hours are available from the start of the term after the child reaches the relevant age.

Not all private nurseries offer these hours, and some charge parents extra money on top to cover additional items such as nappies or snacks.

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Ms Keegan also spoke about a new pilot of the government’s teaching apprenticeship plan, which she said had the potential to be a “game-changer” – alongside other apprenticeships schemes announced by the government.

“I think our apprenticeship system is really the jewel in the crown and it will help us grow our economy going forward,” Ms Keegan said.

Under the scheme trainees as young as 18 will soon be working in England’s classroom while studying for a degree-level apprenticeship.

The trial will see up to 150 trainee maths teachers working in a small number of schools across England.

Ms Keegan said the scheme, which will be rolled out across England in the Autumn, would appeal to people who may not be able to study for a full-time degree, such as teaching assistants or people changing careers.

Source: Gillian Keegan: I’m confident of 15 hours of free childcare by April – BBC News

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