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Nursery Education

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the likely impact of the Government's 10-year strategy for funding nursery education on the number of places available; and if he will make a statement. (94902)

The Government's 10-year child care strategy sets out our commitments: to extend the free early education entitlement to 38 weeks a year across all settings; to increase the number of free hours each week from 12.5 to 15; and to offer them more flexibly than at present. Around £3 billion per year is provided to local authorities to fund the free entitlement.

The first of those changes was implemented this year with flexibilities to help those providers not able to extend their provision to 38 weeks. Additional funding of £82 million in each of financial years 2006-07 and 2007-08 has been made available to LAs to support the extension to the free entitlement in private, voluntary and independent settings.

We are testing the extension to 15 hours, delivered more flexibly, in 20 local authorities next year, with a view to a full roll-out by 2010. We will conduct a full assessment of impact in the light of findings from the Pathfinders.

We expect there to continue to be sufficient places available to deliver the free early education entitlement to all three and four-year-olds. The closure rate of child care places has fallen significantly since the introduction of the 10-year strategy, indicating that the Government's policy of refocusing local authority budgets towards supporting sustainability, rather than creating new places, is working.