Colleges need 25,000 places for childcare

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FURTHER education needs at least 25,000 new childcare places if it is to meet the demand from students according to the latest survey.

Some colleges believe they could fill their places three times over if they were to cut childcare fees and advertise places more widely says FE Now, the magazine for the further education sector.

Almost two-thirds of colleges say that if they increased the childcare they provide they could recruit more students and prevent more of them dropping out. No one knows the exact amount of childcare places provided by further education, although the Further Education Funding Council allocates pounds 3m to 13,000 students. However some colleges use their general funds to spend more.

The Daycare Trust is planning a national audit of childcare in further and higher education. It is expected to lead to a database of all college childcare provision and a telephone hotline for parents seeking places by the year 2000.

The FE Now survey of 150 colleges found wide discrepancy in the number of places offered by establishments. One in four colleges have no childcare places at all. Some colleges have childcare places for one in 20 students others have one place for one student in 400. Overall, colleges feel that there is an immediate demand for a 50 per cent increase in childcare.

More than a third only offer places for children over two years old which is likely to be because of the extra staff and space needed for younger children. Some 45 per cent of colleges did have places for six-month-old babies whereas only 30 per cent had places for babies from three months.

Cost is the crucial factor for many students, because at present they cannot claim for help if they are in full time education.

"If you offer a course for free to people on benefit," says Pene Prior, student services manager at Swindon College, "but then charge pounds 1.25 an hour then you have put it out of their reach again. We wouldn't dare advertise free childcare because we know the demand would be overwhelming."