Need for both parents to work to get 30 hours free childcare ‘should be dropped’

The Government has been urged to drop the need for both parents to be in work to qualify for 30 hours of free childcare a week to help close the attainment gap for disadvantaged children.

Labour accused the Tories of “locking out” the poorest youngsters from its flagship early years scheme, but Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the policy “supports working families”.

At Education Questions in the Commons this afternoon, Labour’s shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin said “communication, articulacy and oracy are absolute keys to closing the disadvantage gap”.

She said: “A child with poor vocabulary at five and under is twice as likely to be unemployed at 30.

“And we know high-quality early years education can make that massive difference for disadvantaged children.”

Ms Brabin (pictured) asked: “Sadly, the minister chooses to lock out the most disadvantaged youngsters out of the 30 hours of free childcare

“Doesn’t the minister agree that in order to make a serious attempt at closing this disadvantage gap he must drop the ‘both parents have to be in work’ qualifying entitlement for 30 hours free childcare?”

In response, Mr Hinds said 154,960 disadvantaged two-year-olds benefit from the 15 hours free entitlement programme, adding: “A programme never available under any Labour government.”

The Cabinet minister went to say: “And as for the increase in eligibility from 15 to 30 hours, that supports working families and helps to sustain employment.

“And may I gently remind her that we have record levels of employment in this country and the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970s.”

Ms Brabin also brought up the issue of funding for Maintained Nursery Schools, as hundreds of headteachers are due to protest outside Downing Street today.

Her Labour colleague Lucy Powell, a former shadow education secretary who has campaigned on the issue, asked for a long-term strategy to keep them open to be agreed by the Department for Education.

She welcomed the announcement of £24 million for Maintained Nursery Schools to keep them open for the next school year, but called on Mr Hinds to “redouble and work across Government so they have a long-term sustainable funding stream”.

The Education Secretary said he did “recognise the particular important place that Maintained Nursery Schools have”, and agreed to look into securing more long-term funding.

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