Worcestershire is getting an extra £23 million to fund early years places.

But it is difficult to say how many places the money will buy, the county’s education chief has admitted.

Tracey Onslow, Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet member for education, said the Dedicated Schools Grant, which supports the council’s schools budget, is increasing from £36.27m in 2023/24 to £59.34m for the next financial year - an increase of £23.07m.

She was answering a question from Worcester councillor Lynn Denham at a full council meeting on February 15.

Cllr Denham wanted to know how much Worcestershire was going to receive and how many extra childcare places there would be from April.

Cllr Onslow said it is not easy to say how many places the money will fund.

“Existing childcare support will be increased in phases,” she told the meeting.

“From April, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of childcare support but those hours can be used over 38 weeks of the year (the school year) or 52 weeks if fewer are used than the total hours per week.

“So, if I access them Monday to Friday in the morning and somebody accesses that same place Monday to Friday in the afternoon and somebody accesses it for 38 weeks and so on, is that one place or four places?

“It’s not as simple as saying the budget of £23m will buy this many places.

“The intention of this new support is to enable families to be able to work and this increase in funding from April 2024 is expected in practice to support families that work who are already accessing childcare already and funding the total cost themselves.”

Cllr Onslow said about 60 per cent of parents of three and four-year-olds currently take up the free childcare offer.

“If we see a similar take-up [among the parents of two-year-olds], this will mean approximately 3,500 children - but that’s a guesstimate, it’s very much down to personal preference,” she said.

“From September 2024, the number of available places will increase as children from nine months to 23 months of working families will have access to the equivalent of 15 hours a week, 38 weeks a year.

“This is a new entitlement. We are currently undertaking an assessment of predicted numbers who may take up this offer and may not.”

Cllr Denham questioned how parents are supposed to find their way through these complexities.

“The response I got was rather technical and difficult to fully take in,” she told the Worcester News.

“What I think I heard was that there would be a phased expansion of places, depending on take up and helping those who are already accessing places, which doesn't sound like the general public's idea of increasing access.”