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Government Admits Need for 40,000 More Nursery Staff for Free Childcare Expansion

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The government has acknowledged that an additional 40,000 nursery staff will be required to implement the “massive” expansion of free childcare, following concerns raised by parents and industry experts.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan accused Labour of dissuading parents from returning to work by not supporting the free childcare scheme, a claim vehemently refuted by the opposition.

Under the new policy, two-year-olds are now eligible for 15 hours of free childcare per week, with plans to extend this to all children over nine months old from September. Subsequently, the hours will double to 30 hours a week by September next year. However, there have been warnings from industry experts about a shortage of staff and places to accommodate this expansion.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak defended the government’s approach, emphasizing the need for a gradual transition to ensure the necessary staffing and infrastructure are in place. He highlighted measures such as increasing rates paid to nurseries and offering bonuses for new childcare workers as part of efforts to address the challenges.

Despite assurances from the government, industry representatives, including Neil Leitch from the Early Years Alliance, have raised concerns about the feasibility of the expansion, citing existing challenges in the sector. Leitch emphasized the need for urgent action to address the funding and organizational issues affecting nurseries.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan dismissed these concerns as “teething troubles” and expressed confidence in meeting the demand for nursery places. She asserted that the government was committed to providing adequate funding and support for a thriving childcare sector.

In response, Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson criticized the government’s handling of the issue, accusing ministers of ignoring nursery owners’ warnings. Labour advocates for a wider review of childcare policies and argues that the current approach lacks a clear plan for implementation.

As the debate continues, the government faces pressure to address the challenges and ensure that the expansion of free childcare is carried out effectively to support working parents and children across the country.