Early years settings that took part were in a range of areas, including urban and rural providers and places with high levels of deprivation and diverse communities.
The ten local authority areas were: Blackpool, Cornwall, Greenwich, Kent, London Borough of Lambeth, Lancashire, Newcastle, Northamptonshire, Peterborough and Rotherham. A total of 1,400 two-year-olds took part in the trial.
The aim was to:
- stimulate growth in the local market and increase capacity in early education settings (including with childminders and schools)
- improve and sustain good quality early education, and
- encourage parental demand and overcome barriers to the take-up of two-year-old places.
The local authorities taking part agreed to share what they had learnt from the trials.
The report, Early Learning for Two-Year-Olds: trials, published by the DfE, brings together the experiences of the ten areas that took part in the pilots. It includes examples of case studies showing how local authorities and providers developed partnerships and used a range of innovative strategies to meet the capacity and sustainability of the two-year-old programme.
It finds that, 'While success, as defined by take-up levels, varied, all the trials significantly increased the number of two-year-olds benefiting from funded provision.'
Although local authorities were at different stages in mapping provision and analysing supply and demand for eligible two-year-olds places, the annual sufficiency assessment was a starting point.
In Rotherham, the early years team gathered occupancy levels from every nursery, pre-school and childminder by age group and then compared the data with registration figures to identify capacity.
Providers were then grouped into areas where they were based to determine the total spare capacity. To map spare capacity against anticipated demand, predicted eligibility figures were used to model the new demand level. These comparisons showed which areas had more projected demand than available spare capacity, as well as those areas where there were insufficient providers.
Children's centres played a key role in referrals. In Kent (see box), Repton Manor Nursery asks interested parents to check their eligibility for a funded two-year-old place with their local children's centre first. The children's centre then emails the nursery with the confirmation so that the nursery can claim the funding from the local authority.
In Lambeth, Loughborough Children's Centre's capacity was doubled by moving three- and four-year-olds into the local school, and using the children's centre site for the delivery of two-year-old places.
After consultation, Lambeth arranged for a school to take a larger reception class to meet demand for primary places.
Health visitors, family support workers, women's refuges and social workers all helped to identify children eligible for two-year-old places and make applications with parents.
However, trial authorities also developed self-referral systems and marketing materials to encourage parents to self-refer, because 'as the number of two-year-olds entitled to an early learning place increases, tightly managed referral systems may no longer be appropriate or manageable'.
Northamptonshire developed an Online Eligibility Checker (OEC). The OEC linked with the DfE's Eligibility Checking Service. The OEC issues families with a reference number, which they take to the early years provider of their choice along with the child's birth certificate and a recent utility bill - the same documents used for establishing eligibility for three- and four-year-old places.
The OEC is 'easy to use and provides an instant response', cutting down on administration. It was trialled in Wellingborough but has now been extended throughout the county.
The report recommends using a variety of methods to reach parents aside from this, such as:
- using plasma screens in children's centres and libraries
- posters and leaflets in school newsletters, so that parents of older children are aware of the offer
- making sure that other partners, eg health visitors, are aware of the eligibility criteria
- remembering that not everyone has access to the internet, so using printed booklets with application forms distributed through GP surgeries and libraries.
Several trials used strategies to increase the number and quality of providers delivering places for two-year-olds.
Expanding the number of childminders was seen as key, with some childminders already 'working to capacity' or possibly been planning to continue working as childminders.
There were also concerns about the specific needs of eligible two-year-olds, questions over 'financial benefits' and worries about the extra paperwork.
In Cornwall, the council worked with Jobcentre Plus to develop a 'childcare sector based work academy'. The programme offered information, training and support with a daily course running from 9.30am to 3pm so that unemployed parents with school-age children could attend. All childcare costs and travel expenses were paid for by Jobcentre Plus.
The course gave candidates the opportunity to have work experience with a local childcare provider.
Candidates were not expected to be alone with children in their care, so did not need CRB checks. Most of the 48 candidates completed the course and 15 successfully went on to get a job, while others continued with extended work experience.
CASE STUDY: REPTON MANOR NURSERY SCHOOL
Kent County Council has developed 24 places for two-, three- and four-year-olds at Repton Manor Nursery School, an urban, community nursery, and 12 places by expanding a specialist rural setting for two-year-olds.
The nursery at Repton Manor opened in April this year in the grounds of a new primary school, which only opened last September. So far, three two-year-olds are claiming the funded places and there will be a fourth funded two-year-old in September.
The nursery can take a total of eight two-year-olds per session, including the funded places. Morning sessions are 8.45-11.45am and afternoon sessions from 12.15-3.15pm. If any of the funded children stay over lunch they pay £2 and can bring a packed lunch or have a hot meal provided by the school for £1.
So far, one child is taking one session more than the 15-hour entitlement, with the other two children taking the funded hours. Some of the children are from families that need extra support with early intervention - for example, with parenting skills.
Many of the children at the nursery and school are in walking distance because they are based on a new housing development. There are plans to build a large community centre, which will offer parenting and mother and toddler groups, and which will have links with the school and nursery. Referrals can come from any children's centre in the Ashford area.
Manager Teresa Foster said, 'We opened on 15 April and are doing very well. Our admissions for September look to be almost at full capacity across all ages and we have just recruited our fourth member of our team. The nursery is proving very popular with interest in places coming in daily.'