UP TO 3,000 students are dropping out of further education each year because of inadequate childcare facilities, a new survey reveals.
Three out of every five colleges that responded to the survey, conducted by the Daycare Trust, said students had left courses because they were having difficulty looking after their children.
The trust says students leave because they cannot afford childcare or because the places are not available.
Many students who drop out do not explain why they are leaving, so the true annual figure could be 3,000 or even higher, said Chris Grover, author of the study and lecturer in social policy and social work at Bradford University. "Parents made it quite clear that childcare is crucial to them returning to study," he said.
Nearly two-thirds (61.4 per cent) of the 308 colleges that responded to the survey provide childcare facilities, but not all students can afford to use them. Meanwhile, 80 per cent open their facilities to staff and the wider community, but this means more than a third (38.4 per cent) of places are taken up by children whose parents are not studying at the college.
Education and employment minister Margaret Hodge said the Government was investing more tha ever in childcare for FE students. From next year, colleges can apply for money from a new pound;25 million childcare access fund, which will give them greater flexibility to decide which students are entitled to childcare support and how much they receive.
The new fund replaces the Further Education Funding Council's tariff system, which in 19992000 provided pound;9m for childcare in FE. Ms Hodge told the national childcare charity's conference in London last week that 30,000 students should be assisted in 200001. "Every college should receive funding. Access shouldn't be subject to geographical lottery," she said.
Ian Ashman, deputy principal of Hackney Community College, said the new fund should mean that fewer colleges have to subsidise childcare from their own budgets. Under the tariff system, the east London college received less than half the pound;380,000 it costs to run two nurseries with a total of 245 places.
Hackney, which retains all of its nursery places for children of students, has a waiting list of more than 150. Some students move to other courses simply so their children can remain at the nursery. "The childcare place can become a reason for people wanting to stay at the college," he said.