Education & Family

Autumn Statement: Nursery places plan for two-year-olds

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Media captionChancellor George Osborne announces free nursery places

More free places in nursery or childcare are being made available to two-year-olds in England, under plans set out by Chancellor George Osborne.

Mr Osborne says there will be 260,000 places for children from the most deprived homes - up from the 140,000 places proposed earlier this month.

In his Autumn Statement, the chancellor also announced an extra £600m to create a further 100 free schools.

And £600m will be given to areas with greatest pressure on school places.

Back to work

The childcare plan, which is intended to make it easier for parents to return to work, will see a pilot scheme being rolled out across England from 2013.

At present, three- and four-year-olds are currently entitled to 15 hours per week of "early education" for 38 weeks a year.

This will now be extended to about 40% of two-year-olds - at a cost of £380m per year by 2014-15 - with an emphasis on supporting disadvantaged families.

The places can be in nursery schools, children's centres, day care nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools and with accredited child minders.

Mr Osborne said that 260,000 children from the "most disadvantaged families" would receive free nursery care from the government.

"Education, early years learning, this is how you change the life chances of our least well-off and genuinely lift children out of poverty," Mr Osborne told the Commons.

"And that is how you build an economy ready to compete in the world."

Maths schools

The 100 new free schools - schools which are funded by the government but are free from local authority control - will include up to 12 specialist maths schools for 16- to 18-year-olds.

Mr Osborne said these were "what Britain needed to match its competitors".

He praised Education Secretary Michael Gove for creating 1,200 academies in 18 months.

Supporting education reform was a "central plank" of his economic policy, the chancellor said.

He said youth unemployment had been rising for seven years and was "unacceptably high".

A lack of jobs was made worse by a lack of skills, he said.

"Too many children are leaving school after 11 years of compulsory education without the basics they need for the world of work."

The school system, he said, needed to be transformed to help improve the country's productivity.

'Elitist vision'

The Association of School and College Leaders said the chancellor's autumn budget statement was "bad news indeed" for education.

General secretary Brian Lightman said: "At a time of unprecedented economic pressure, it is incomprehensible that the government is committing that sum of funding to creating 100 new free schools when so many existing schools are in desperate need of investment."

Mr Lightman also expressed concern that public sector pay rises would be capped at 1% for two years, saying this would make it difficult to attract high calibre candidates into teaching.

"As the government has repeatedly stated, a high-status teaching profession is the key to meeting the challenges our economy currently faces.

"This statement does little to make that a reality."

The teaching union the NASUWT said the chancellor's plans benefited "the few, not the many".

General secretary Chris Keates said: "In naked pursuit of the coalition's elitist vision of education, 100 free schools and a handful of pupils get £600m while children in 22,000 other schools fight over a few hundred pounds.

"Record levels of youth unemployment are the result of the chancellor's mismanagement of the economy.

"Shifting the blame onto schools is unacceptable and wrong."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said Mr Osborne's plans would "not bring back the 124 Sure Start centres which have closed since the government came into office".

She added: "When times are so hard, it is ideological nonsense to set aside an extra £600m for free schools in areas where there is no shortage of places.

"We need rationalisation in post-16 provision, not new, expensive, selective schools."

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