A steep drop in the number of childminders working in England has been branded "simply unacceptable" by campaigners who have called on the Government to take action to halt the decline.
New Ofsted figures show that there are now more than 15,000 fewer registered childminders compared to around six years ago, with the numbers down by hundreds in three months alone.
Overall, there were 41,700 registered with the watchdog as of the end of March, down by 27% (15,700) since the end of August 2012.
In addition, there are 600 fewer registered compared to the end of last year, the figures show.
Neil Leitch (pictured), chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said it was good news that 94% of all early years providers - including childminders and nurseries - are rated as good or outstanding.
But he added: "It is incredibly concerning to see that the number of childminders has continued to decline. To lose 27% of a workforce over less than six years is simply unacceptable, and it beggars belief that the Government has still not seen fit to do anything to tackle this ongoing trend.
"Childminders offer parents a vital source of quality, flexible care and education and the services they provide are absolutely crucial to the sector as a whole, especially at a time when the Government is trying to expand the childcare offer in this country.
"As such, we urge the Government to finally take some action on this issue - and addressing concerns over excessive paperwork, substantially increasing hourly funding rates and, crucially, removing unfair rules preventing childminders from claiming funding for related children would be a good start.
"As these statistics have made clear, simply ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away."
The childminders who left between December and March had been registered for around nine years on average.
Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, said: "The difficulty of finding good quality and affordable childcare is a constant refrain on Mumsnet's forums - the sharp drop in the number of childminders over the past few years is no doubt one of the contributing factors.
"Given the real economic benefits of parents remaining in the workplace, it's high time we started thinking about childcare provision in the same light as we we think about other infrastructure spending."
Children and Families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "We want every child to have the best start in life, and it's clear from these figures that parents can be confident with the care and support on offer for their children.
"The quality of the childcare providers remains high with more than nine out of 10 rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
"We want to improve early years education and childcare for every child, regardless of their background.
"That's why we are spending more on childcare than any other government - around £6 billion a year by 2020, including an additional £1 billion a year to deliver our free childcare offers."
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