Expansion of free early years places for two-year-olds to start in the autumn

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Two thousand more two-year-olds will be eligible for a free early education place from September in plans to be announced by the Deputy Prime Minister today.

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Ten more areas will be trialling more places for two-year-olds, so that some children will become eligible a year earlier than originally planned.

They are Blackpool, Cornwall, Greenwich, Kent, Lambeth, Lancashire, Newcastle, Northamptonshire, Peterborough and Rotherham.

Nick Clegg and children’s minister Sarah Teather are also holding a summit today with some of the largest childcare providers to discuss how best to expand the two-year-old scheme.

Early years organisations have previously raised concerns about whether enough providers will want to offer the places for disadvantaged two-year-olds or make capital investment to increase the size of their settings.

Longstanding issues around inadequate funding for three-and four-year-olds have meant that some early years settings are effectively subsidising free places themselves.

The Government is also publishing its response to the consultation on proposed changes to the entitlement to free early education and childcare sufficiency. The consultation report sets out the Government's intentions for the first phase of the scheme.

Other key changes are:

  • Revised statutory guidance to make it clear that parents to do not have to pay to access their free place, in light of ongoing concerns that parents are still paying ‘top up’ fees.

  • Parents will be able to access the free entitlement over a longer day from 7am to 7pm (instead of 8am to 6pm) to give them more flexibility.

  • Parents will be able to choose to use their 15 hours over two days, instead of the current minimum of five hours over three days a week. Ministers say that currently many parents are unable to take up all the hours because of this restriction.

  • Settings that are graded outstanding or good by Ofsted will be able to provide the free places for two-year-olds, and settings that are 'satisfactory' will need to meet at least one other criteria from a basket of qualty measures. However, local authorities will be able to stipulate that providers meet more than the minimum criteria. This is to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a high quality setting to give them the support they need to close the attainment gap with their peers.

Overall around 150,000 children in England, 20 per cent of two-year-olds, will be entitled to a free place for 15 hours a week through the first phase of the scheme from September 2013, as the Government begins expanding the offer.

From September 2014 260,000, 40 per cent of two-year-olds, will become eligible.

 There will be a second consultation later this year on proposed eligibility criteria for the second phase.

Funding

The Government has also confirmed that funding for the scheme will be allocated to local authorities through the Dedicated Schools Grant from April 2013, which is ringfenced for spending on education, unlike the Early Intervention Grant which funds children’s centres and other childcare services.

Ministers hope that this will reassure nurseries, pre-schools and childminders that if they expand their settings to cater for more two-year-olds the funding will be available.

The Government said that the extra amount invested on early education will have risen by more than £1 billion a year.

The Department for Education has also published figures to show how many two-year-olds in each local authority will be able to access the free places from 2013.

Speaking at a children’s centre this morning Nick Clegg will say, ‘We’re revolutionising the early start our children get in life – there will be more free childcare, it will be higher quality, and it will be more flexible for parents.

‘By getting things right from the off we’re making sure our youngsters are ready to learn when they start school so that they get the most out of their education. Every child should have a fair crack at the whip from the start and be able to go on to fulfil their potential.’

Sarah Teather said, ‘High quality early education is the key to making a difference early on in a child’s life. All the evidence shows how important it is for their development.

‘The challenge now is to make sure the least advantaged two-year-olds are able to access their early education entitlement. Too often, the most disadvantaged children don’t get what they are entitled to. It’s important we now work with councils, nurseries and childminders to target free early education at those who stand to benefit the most.

‘I am determined that the Coalition Government will do all it can to make sure the poorest two-year-olds and their families can reap the benefits from our investment around the country.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, ‘Government commitment to funding of childcare places for two-year-olds very welcome. Nurseries already involved in the two-year-old pilot schemes have given us very positive feedback on the difference they have seen it make to children.

‘However, the funding allocated to early years provision must cover costs otherwise it is not sustainable for many nurseries to participate in the free entitlement, without pushing up the price of paid-for care for other parents.

It is vital that nursery costs are covered to ensure there are the 260,000 additional places for two-year-olds, which are needed by September 2014, can be created.’

But she welcomed the fact that the funding would be in the DSG and therefore ringfenced for education.

‘We would like to see local authorities passing on this money to nurseries, so it gets to the frontline to cover the costs of childcare, ‘she said.

Commenting on increasing the hours from 7am to 7pm she said that nurseries tried to be flexible for parents and, ‘if that’s what parents want and it works for the nursery and nursery staff too.’

She said it was important 'that it is clearly communicated to parents that they are eligible for a funded two-year-old place to make sure there is a good uptake of the provision and that the scheme benefits children from the most disadvantaged homes.’

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘Without quality provision in the early years, children from disadvantaged backgrounds begin school lagging behind their better-off peers. It also provides parents with the flexibility they need to return to work.

‘Ministers are right to emphasise the importance of quality - young children deserve the very best provision. While this doesn’t come cheap, investing in our children is in the long-term interests of the country.’

 ‘There are big challenges ahead to ensure that local authorities are able to find the added capacity to meet demand with many already commenting on the size of challenge this poses.

‘With the pressing time frame local authorities should review all the options open to them including children centres – many of which have the facilities they need to deliver childcare already in place, as well as the array of childminders, maintained schools and private, voluntary, and independent sector settings across the country.’

4Children said that many local authorities, particularly Tower Hamlets and other areas with high numbers of disadvantaged children have expressed serious concerns about whether there will be enough high-quality settings to provide places for all two-year-olds that are eligible.

Childcare organisations are also concerned that in areas where there are lots of academy schools and consequently less funding for education in the Dedicated Schools Grant that this will lead to more pressure put on two-year-old funding.

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