More than 300 pre-schoolers are cared for by substandard childminders and nurseries in Darlington, figures show.
Experts say “woeful” underfunding and a recruitment and retention crisis have contributed to too many children receiving inappropriate levels of care and education at a crucial development stage.
At the end of March, at least 304 three and four-year-olds were being looked after by childcare providers in Darlington rated “inadequate” or “requiring improvement”, figures from the education watchdog Ofsted show.
They include seven children attending early years settings that received the lowest possible Ofsted grading of “inadequate”.
It means 11 per cent of the three and four-year-olds who have places at Government-funded facilities in Darlington were cared for by negatively-rated institutions or childminders.
Ofsted currently lists four nurseries in Darlington that are rated “requires improvement”:
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The largest proportion of children their age (62 per cent) attend settings inspectors rated “good” while 19 per cent enjoy “outstanding” care in the area.
In addition to those, there are other youngsters attending settings that do not currently have an Ofsted rating.
The figures cover all providers that receive funding giving children of that age 15 free hours of care and early education for up to 38 weeks a year. They include 677 children of working families, who are entitled to an additional 15 hours under the Government’s tax-free childcare scheme.
Families can use their allocation of hours at providers including childminders, private and school nurseries and pre-schools.
Darlington Borough Council said it supports all providers told to improve by the watchdog.
Councillor Jon Clarke, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “If childminders or private and voluntary settings receive an “inadequate” or “requires improvement” rating from Ofsted, local authority officers work with the setting to create an action plan in order to rapidly raise the level of care.
“This is reviewed regularly and they are supported until their next inspection. If a school which has a nursery as part of its provision receives an “inadequate” or “requires improvement” rating then the school can also access support from the council.
“The council offers professional development at a bespoke level for the whole early years sector and has established an Early Years Strategy Group to consider issues facing providers and to develop strategies and protocols to support.
“We want the best for children in Darlington.”
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