Exclusive: Rising to the challenge for two-year-olds

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Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss calls on providers to help deliver a high quality early education programme for two-year-olds

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Today we are publishing next year’s local authority allocations for the early education programme for two-year-olds from low-income families. From September next year, 130,000 two-year-olds will be able to receive 15 hours a week of early education, rising to 260,000 two-year-olds the year after. Councils now know how much funding they have to deliver this vitally important programme.

It is important that funding for two-year-olds, as well as three- and four-year-olds, reaches the front line. All the evidence shows that it is the quality of staff that matters most in getting young children ready for school and closing the educational gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds. So providers must be given the resources they need to recruit and retain talented people and to improve the skills of their existing staff.

At the moment there are significant differences between the rates different local authorities pay providers for three- and four-year-olds. When I met a number of providers in Leeds earlier this month, I was struck by the variation in rates paid by local authorities, ranging from less than £3 an hour in one area to £5 in another.

We want high quality providers to expand their businesses and bring their experience and expertise to parts of the country where provision is currently patchy. But it is difficult for providers to offer a consistent quality of service in different parts of the country when the amount they are paid is so varied.

There are three main ways I want to help nurseries, schools and childminders deliver a high quality early education programme: sufficient funding to recruit and retain top quality staff, maximum transparency and consistent funding rates across the country.

Firstly, we are providing enough money to ensure the best quality early years staff are educating these two-year-olds. Local authorities will receive an average of £5.09 per child per hour – significantly above the average market rate of £4.13. This means there is more than enough money in the system to attract good new staff and retain high quality professionals.

Secondly, we are insisting on maximum transparency to help ensure money reaches the frontline. I have openly challenged local authorities to pass on all their funding for places to the frontline. I hope providers will echo this call. Next year, we will publish on the Department for Education’s website the actual amount every local authority has passed on to providers for the two-year-old early education programme. I want parents and providers alike to hold local authorities to account.

Thirdly, there will be consistency across the country. Funding has been allocated according to a national formula, adjusted for average costs in each area. Successful providers know that they can go anywhere in the country and be confident that the local authority has sufficient funds to pay for a high quality two-year-old education programme. We have made it clear that any good or outstanding provider should be able to offer these places.

I would also urge providers to use Ofsted’s tool, launched today, to see where the good and outstanding providers are currently located and where there is currently a dearth of high quality provision. Where there are gaps in the market, new and existing providers should try to fill them.

This is a great chance to help young children from low-income families get better prepared for school. I hope providers will rise to the challenge and make sure these children have the best possible early education.

Elizabeth Truss, Education and Childcare Minister

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