Blunkett pledges extra childcare

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Another 20,000 places will be set up this year as part of the Government's pounds 300m childcare strategy, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, announced yesterday.

At present, the Out of School Childcare Initiative started under the previous government offers 80,000 places.

A report from Mr Blunkett's department shows that the money is badly needed if the Government is to succeed in encouraging more parents, especially women to take-up or re-enter training or work.

The survey from the Office for National Statistics shows that, overall, 80 per cent of schemes set up three years ago as part of the initiative have survived. But in deprived areas with high unemployment less than half were viable, presumably because parents could not afford them. Only about one-third of the surviving schemes were in poor areas.

The average weekly charge for an after-school place is pounds 18.80, according to the report which looked at 145 schemes. Parents are charged, pounds 29.50 for a before and after-school place and pounds 50.40 for a holiday place. Only one in three offered before-school places, almost all offered after-school places and two-thirds were open in the holidays.

Mr Blunkett told a Kids Club Network conference that there would be more places for four-year-olds who had started school, more out-of-school places in further education colleges and more training for childcare workers. He promised an expansion of out-of-school childcare when lottery funding comes on stream next year. About pounds 30m has been allocated to childcare from the windfall fund. "Our aim is to ensure that no parent is prevented from taking up work, education or training though lack of affordable, accessible and quality childcare and that children's personal, social and educational needs are placed at the centre of the strategy," he said.

Margaret Lochrie, of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, welcomed the extra money but said more was needed for pre-school children. "