Thousands of South Yorkshire youngsters to receive free childcare

Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg meets a parent and her children during a tour of the a playgroup.
Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg meets a parent and her children during a tour of the a playgroup.
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Free childcare places for two-year-olds are being expanded so thousands more South Yorkshire families will be able to benefit.

The extra places have been announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg.

Under plans already announced, 130,000 two-year-olds from families across the country who qualify for free school meals, receive free places from this week.

But from next September, the scheme is being doubled in size to offer 360,000 free places to families that earn less than £16,190 per year and receive working tax credits.

Youngsters who have been adopted, are in care or have a disability or special educational needs will also benefit from next year.

In South Yorkshire, 3,660 two-year-olds qualify from this year, rising to 9,200 from September 2014.

Mr Clegg said: “This free support is focused on helping the families that need it most.

“And from this time next year, we will extend that helping hand even further, doubling the number of youngsters getting a brighter start in life.

“All the evidence shows that if you take two children – two five-year-olds hanging up their coats next to each other on the first day of school – the poorer child will already be behind their better off classmate before a single lesson has been taught.”

The free places are costing £534 million this year, rising to £760 million in 2014/15.

Concerns have been raised about how many sites will be available to offer the places, however, with some nurseries closing due to Government funding cuts elsewhere. Among sites closing are Sheffield’s Sharrow Sure Start.

Anand Shukla, head of charity the Family and Childcare Trust, said: “Cost savings have driven nursery closures and this approach reduces capacity in the system, which will damage government hopes of meeting its targets for provision of childcare for two-year-olds.”