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Pre-school Education

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what statutory duties there are on local authorities in England to provide nursery places for three and four year olds; what remedies are available to parents in instances where a local authority fails to fulfil that duty; and if he will make a statement. (317721)

Section 7 of the Childcare Act 2006, together with the regulations made under it (the Local Authority [LA] (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Regulations 2008), place a duty on English local authorities to secure that early years provision is available free of charge for 12.5 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year for every child in its area for the two years prior to their reaching compulsory school age (children reach compulsory school age at the start of the next school term after they turn five). This must be available from a provider who delivers the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Statutory guidance makes clear that local authorities should put in place appeals procedures for parents who are not satisfied that their child has received their free entitlement and if a parent is not satisfied with the way in which their appeal has been conducted or believe the local authority has acted unreasonably they may make a complaint to the local authority ombudsman.

A legal challenge by way of judicial review for breach of the statutory duty could also be brought. If the court is satisfied that the LA is in breach of its duty under the Childcare Act it can order that the LA take action to remedy this.

In addition, by virtue of section 15 of the Childcare Act, a parent may also complain to the Secretary of State under section 496, 497 or 497A of the Education Act 1996. The Secretary of State has intervention powers under sections 496, 497 and 497A of the Education Act 1996, for instance to direct that the local authority discharge its statutory duty.