Policy and Politics
Education Bill could make end of universal free entitlement possible
Changes to the law introduced in the Education Bill could leave the way open for a future change of policy to restrict the free entitlement to early years provision for three and four-year-olds to only the poorest families.
In order for the Government to extend the right of free early years provision to disadvantaged two-year-olds, regulations in the Childcare Act 2006 need to be amended.
Current regulations require local authorities only to use a child's age as the criteria for eligibility for the free entitlement.
The Bill therefore proposes a new section to allow for a family's income to be taken into account.
It adds, 'The regulations under the new section 7 will be able to define an entitlement for children based on criteria other than age, such as criteria related to a family's economic circumstances, as the Government intends for two-year-olds.'
But the amendment could mean that legally, any Government could move from universal access for all threeto five-year-olds to a limited entitlement.
The new section also enables the education secretary 'to set out in regulations the nature of early education, the description for children for whom it must be made available' and to tell local authorities how much provision should be available and when, for example a minimum number of weeks a year or certain times of day.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'The Government committed in the Spending Review to extending universal free provision for threeand four-year-olds, and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, to 15 hours a week. Existing legislation wasn't flexible enough to allow the extension to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, so we have amended it in the Education Bill. Legislation will define which two-year-olds will receive a statutory entitlement from 2013. The Government is fully committed to universal free provision for all threeand four-year-olds.'