YOUNG MOTHERS are being prevented from returning to education because there is too little creche space, according to a childcare charity.
The Daycare Trust says it has seen a big increase in numbers of queries from parents complaining about a lack of childcare - with nearly a fifth of callers raising the issue.
It is feared many are unable to return before the age of 19 because of the time it takes them to adjust to motherhood. The cost of providing childcare places is running ahead of demand, according to colleges, suggesting the Government could struggle to meet its own targets for getting young people through training and into employment.
Hartlepool College of Further Education and Sheffield College both closed nurseries last summer, bringing protests from parents, while funding cuts forced adult learning provider Community Education Lewisham to double its creche fees.
Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges are under increasing financial pressure and they are not in a position where they can expand childcare provision to meet the demand that's out there."
The College of North West London in Brent closed its nursery provision two years ago because of financial pressures and instead subsidises students to use childcare places elsewhere.
The lack of provision is said to be particularly critical in London, but problems are reported around the country.
Maggie Pulle, deputy principal of the College of North West London, blames the high cost of childcare coupled with inadequate money in the Learner Support Fund. The average cost of childcare in England is pound;152 a week, rising to pound;205 a week in inner London. She said: "Brent has built a lot of children's centres with Surestart and has done a great deal to add to the childcare options. But they all come at a cost."
The Daycare Trust is about to begin a research project examining the childcare provision in further education in four local authority areas.
The Government wants the proportion of lone parents in jobs to increase from 57 per cent to 70 per cent by 2010.
The Learning and Skills Council claims the Care to Learn scheme, which supports parents aged up to 19 to continue studying, has made a significant difference. An independent study showed that 90 per cent of parents on the scheme would not have returned to the classroom without it.
In March the Government announced new funding for 50,000 jobless families to benefit from childcare to allow them to access training and get jobs.
A spokesman for the Depart-ment for Education and Skills said: "The aim is that it will work alongside existing funding available through some local colleges, Care to Learn and Jobcentre Plus, in a coherent system to help young women access further education."