[holding answer 11 January 2007]: We currently invest £3 billion per year in the delivery of the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds. This funding is intended to provide, for each eligible child, access to high quality early learning and care, delivered in accordance with the Foundation Stage Curriculum and National Daycare Standards.
In the context of the comprehensive spending review and in order to assess the impact of extending the free entitlement to 15 hours and increasing its flexibility by 2010, work has been done to identify the current cost of providing the free entitlement in different kinds of settings. This has involved modelling on the basis of the national survey data and also discussions and joint work with a range of local authorities and stakeholders. On the basis of this, we judge that there is sufficient national funding in the system to deliver the free entitlement.
(2) what estimate he has made of the expected cost to the Exchequer of extending the entitlement to free nursery care for all three and four-year-olds from 38 to 43 weeks a year for (a) 15 and (b) 20 hours per week.
[holding answers 11 January 2007]: The 10-Year Childcare Strategy set out our commitment to extending the free entitlement to early education and care for all three and four-year-olds to 15 hours by 2010. We are also committed to increasing the flexibility of the free entitlement so that it is more responsive to the needs of children and families.
In the context of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) work is ongoing to estimate the cost of the extensions to 15 and 20 hours, based on population and take-up data and current levels of funding. We are seeking to roll-out the extension to 15 hours gradually, starting with 20 pathfinder local authorities who will begin providing the 15 hours and greater flexibility from April this year. These pathfinders will provide crucial information on the practical local implications of the changes which will underpin national estimates of the cost of extending the entitlement and increasing its flexibility. Figures cannot be confirmed in advance of the Department’s comprehensive spending review settlement and until we have these findings.
We have no plans to extend the free entitlement to 43 rather than 38 weeks, though some local authorities offer the current free entitlement over more than 38 weeks by providing access to fewer hours per week where this is what parents want for their children.