Four children for every Sunderland childcare place

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, at a nursery after announcing his childcare reforms.Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, at a nursery after announcing his childcare reforms.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, at a nursery after announcing his childcare reforms.
Children aged under five far outnumber available childcare places in Sunderland, new figures show.

Childcare has been thrown into the spotlight after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made it a central subject of his spring Budget – with plans to significantly expand free childcare over the next few years – but charities have warned they may be hampered by a lack of capacity in the sector and recruitment difficulties.

Figures from the Department for Education show there were 3,055 places for early years childcare in the city as of December - while separate data from the 2021 census shows there were around 13,800 children aged four and under in the area.

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This suggests there was one childcare place for every 4.4 children in the area – above the national figure of 2.4 children per place and one of the worst ratios in the country.

Separate Ofsted figures further show there were four childcare establishments in Sunderland judged as requiring improvement, while one was rated as 'inadequate' as of December.

These providers were responsible for 95 places – meaning 3.5% of childcare places in the area were substandard.

The Chancellor announced 30 hours of free childcare for all under-fives from the moment maternity care ends, where eligible, and he said the policy would be introduced in stages to ensure there is "enough supply in the market".

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Free childcare for working parents will be available to those with two-year-olds from April 2024, but it will initially be limited to 15 hours.

From September 2024, the 15-hour offer will be extended to children from nine months, with the full 30-hour offer to all under-fives coming in from September 2025.

Mr Hunt said this was the "biggest transformation in childcare" in his lifetime.

He added: “We are going as fast as we can to get the supply in the market to expand.”

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Megan Jarvie, head of Coram Family and Childcare charity, said it was “crucial” that there is enough funding to accommodate the expansion of free childcare places.

She said: “If it is not cone right then we are at risk of seeing big childcare shortages.

A recent survey by the charity found that 48% of all local authorities are not providing sufficient childcare for parents working full-time.