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Free childcare pilot in Lincolnshire could be extended

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: June 12, 2012

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A pioneering scheme providing free childcare for disadvantaged Lincolnshire children could be extended to more county families.

It comes after the success of the pilot project in the county inspired the Government to roll it out across the country.

Currently, all 3-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free child care each week.

But since 2009, 2-year-olds from some of Lincolnshire's poorest families have also been receiving up to ten hours of childcare and education.

So far, nearly 1,400 youngsters have benefited thanks to Lincolnshire County Council appointed child minders, nurseries and pre-schools. Now, the council's executive is gearing up to make a decision on whether to increase numbers.

It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the service will be rolled out to ten other towns and cities across the country in September.

The county was looked at as a benchmark for the plan. And a new report looking at the results has found that it is having a positive impact on tackling behavioural issues in disadvantaged children.

The report also states that it is helping youngsters make steps in terms of language development, confidence and becoming more accustomed to boundaries.

The Lincoln Marina branch of The Old Station Nursery delivers the provision for the authority.

Managing director Sarah Steel told the Echo that children who took advantage of the service had made significant improvements in behaviour.

She said: "There's been a lot of academic research into good quality pre-school and early education having a really marked effect on disadvantaged children. It really is helping to level the playing field.

"Accessing the early education for free can have a big difference on the child and really help the family.

"Often the children who can access the scheme have extra requirements so part of coming into that group setting helps speed social skills and also helps with behavioural issues.

"Parents can stay as well and interact with their child, but a lot tend not to because it is a good chance for them to have a break as they have no other support.

"If a child hasn't had the same advantages as others while they're younger and there is a gap, this scheme is really helping them to catch up."

Stephanie Douglas, head of the county council's Birth to Five service, said: "We have done quite a lot of study which is indicating that behaviour in children who take up the provision is improving.

"Parents can put their children in free early education and stay if they want to and learn how to better handle their children."

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