Liz Truss is said to be considering a shake-up of the childcare subsidy system whereby parents, rather than nurseries, would be handed Government cash to spend as they see fit.
As it stands, all three and four-year olds in England are entitled to 15 hours’ free childcare a week during term time, while some families can claim up to double that amount.
The funding for each place is currently sent straight to approved providers, such as nurseries or childminders.
However the Prime Minister and her Education Secretary, Kit Malthouse, are reportedly weighing up proposals which would see the money paid directly to parents to invest as they wish.
The Department for Education (DfE) said “a wide range of options” are being explored to make childcare more accessible and affordable, but no decisions have yet been made.
The Times said one option is for parents to be given a flexible childcare budget in place of a paid-for space, with the Government potentially loosening the rules on which providers can offer the care and how old children need to be to qualify.
Alternatively, families could be given near-total freedom on how they spend the cash, potentially passing it on to grandparents helping out with childcare.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson branded the reported plans “half-baked”.
“Childcare is vital: for parents, for children, for our economy and for our society, but these half-baked plans show the Conservatives have no idea how to create a system that works for families,” she said.
“Labour will create a modern childcare system that supports parents from the end of parental leave through to the end of primary school, starting with free breakfast clubs for every child in every primary school in England.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are exploring a wide range of options to make childcare more accessible and affordable for parents, but no decisions have been made.”