David Cameron promised 30 hours a week of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds as he launched his party’s election manifesto today.
In a speech at a University Technical College in Swindon, the prime minister pledged that existing childcare provision would be doubled, saving parents £5,000 a year.
It followed a similar claim yesterday by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who promised to offer parents 25 hours of free childcare for infants.
With just over 22 days before the general election, Mr Cameron said that childcare was a key measure for many working families.
“A good life should mean that raising your family feels like an incredible and joyful and, yes, sometimes exhausting journey but it shouldn't be a struggle with the bills," he said. "For families with young children, this is not one issue among many – it is the issue. They're asking: 'How can this work? How can we afford it?' It shouldn't have to be this way."
Elsewhere, the Tory manifesto reiterated the party’s pledges to create at least 500 additional free schools, providing 270,000 new places.
Plans to convert every “failing and coasting” secondary school into an academy were included, as were proposals to introduce new “resit tests” in Year 7 for any 11-year-old who fails to reach the expected standards in English and maths in Key Stage 2 assessments.
The manifesto also promised that any school judged by Ofsted to be requiring improvement will be taken over by the “best headteachers” backed by “expert sponsors or high-performing neighbouring schools”, unless they can show they are improving.
It also pledged to “develop a strategy to tackle the infiltration of extremists into our schools and public services”.
The Conservatives claim the extra hours of childcare will be paid for by curbing tax relief on pensions of people earning more than £150,000, which they hope will raise the £3bn needed.
But concerns were immediately raised by childcare providers, which claimed that the current 15 hours of free childcare was already underfunded.
In a statement, the Pre-school Learning Alliance said: “Although in theory any steps taken to improve the availability of childcare are positive, we would seriously question how feasible this pledge is in practice.
“At the moment, government funding does not cover the cost of delivering 15 hours of childcare for three- and four-year-olds, and so it has been left to providers and parents to make up the shortfall. It is difficult to see, therefore, how plans to double the current offer without addressing this historic underfunding can be implemented without leading to even higher childcare costs, or risking the sustainability of the sector altogether.”
Meanwhile, the Green Party also launched its election manifesto, in which it stated it would abolish Ofsted, league tables, Sats tests, reduce all class sizes to 20 and reintegrate free schools and academies under local authority control.
Tories plan 'resit tests' in secondary schools for Year 7s - 8 April 2015
Cameron: schools will face real-terms funding cuts under Tories - 2 February 2015