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Free childcare changes announced

Almost 1,000 two-year-olds are to benefit from free childcare a year early after it was decided to bring forward trials in 10 areas in England to this September, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced.

He also announced changes to introduce greater flexibility to allow more parents to take advantage of the scheme - already used by more than 800,000 three and four-year-olds.

It is intended that 150,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will receive up to 15 hours a week of free pre-school education from September 2013, rising to 260,000 in 2014.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in his 2010 spending review that the free childcare currently available to three and four-year-olds would gradually be extended to two-year-olds in England.

Following a consultation, Mr Clegg announced today that the first areas to benefit, in September this year, will be Blackpool, Cornwall, Greenwich, Kent, Lambeth, Lancashire, Newcastle, Northamptonshire, Peterborough and Rotherham.

He added that parents will be given the option to spread their free nursery place over two days, rather than three, and to use the free hours between 7am and 7pm, rather than 8am and 6pm. The changes are intended to make it easier to fit the childcare around working lives.

New guidance will also make clear that nurseries cannot make the free childcare conditional on parents also taking up additional paid-for hours.

Mr Clegg said: "We're revolutionising the early start our children get in life - there will be more free childcare, it will be higher quality, and it will be more flexible for parents.

"By getting things right from the off, we're making sure our youngsters are ready to learn when they start school so that they get the most out of their education. Every child should have a fair crack at the whip from the start and be able to go on to fulfil their potential."

Mr Clegg told the BBC he hoped the initiative would make a "dramatic difference". He said: "The basic challenge, of course, if you are going to expand the amount of childcare provision to two-year-olds, you need more people properly qualified to do that and we need more places. That is why we are carefully piloting this new initiative. It is a revolution in childcare to extend this to two-year-olds as of this September and then going up in very steady steps."

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