According to the Department for Education, since the introduction of the free hours for disadvantaged two-year-olds in September, 92,000 children have signed up for the places, leaving 38,000 available places.
Under the scheme, eligible two-year-olds receive 570 hours per year or 15 hours per week of funded early education, which they can take up at any early years setting rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss welcomed the figures, which they said showed a huge increase on the 20,000 two-year-olds accessing free early education in 2010.
They went on to say they want more eligible two-year-olds taking up the 130,000 places, which will increase to 260,000 from next September.
The education and childcare minister also called on local authorities to pass on the full amount of funding to providers to ensure that as many children as possible are able to access the places.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said, ‘Early access to high-quality childcare is vitally important to ensure children are ready for school, ready for the world and able to get a good start in life.
‘Giving disadvantaged children early support gives them the best possible chance to succeed, it means they’re less likely to fall behind their wealthier classmates and it can make a huge impact on their future. It is vital for a fair and prosperous society.’
Ms Truss said, ‘Good quality teacher-led early years education helps children develop the social skills and vocabulary they need for learning, and as Baroness Morgan has pointed out, school nurseries can offer these places as well as childminders and nurseries.
‘In future, funding to councils will be based on a "use it or lose it" basis. The number of participating children will determine the amount of funding they get. Where parents are not taking up these places, local authorities will get less money.’
Commenting on the figures, Labour’s shadow minister for childcare and children Lucy Powell MP, said, ‘Under David Cameron we’ve got a cost of living crisis made worse by the fact that families who were promised free childcare are finding they don’t have a place.
‘This Government have hit families with reduced support, rising childcare costs and fewer places. Labour's primary childcare guarantee and the extension of free childcare for working parents from 15 to 25 hours for three and four year olds will be a real boost for families feeling the pinch and struggling to balance work and family life.’
The Pre-School Learning Alliance welcomed the announcement that 92,000 two-year-olds are receiving free early education, but stressed the importance of ensuring that providers offering funded places are given adequate support by local authorities.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said, 'Two-year-olds have very different needs to three- and four-year-olds, and many Alliance members are working hard to adjust their services to meet the influx of this age group, which has specific learning and care requirements. This requires extra time and support to ensure that the overall quality of the service remains consistently high.'
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA, also warned that caution was needed when it came to funding the places.
She said, 'NDNA agrees with the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that early access to high quality childcare is vitally important to ensure children get a good start in life. Such a good response to the two-year-old offer in what is a relatively short time since it was rolled out in September is very encouraging and we would like to see it continue.
'At the moment providers are working within a system which is not fit for purpose. In NDNA’s Spring Business Performance Survey 50 per cent of nurseries said the funding provided by local authorities does not cover the cost of the place ultimately making it unsustainable long term.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for childcare and early years (PACEY), said, 'This progress is great news for children and families.
However, PACEY is concerned that the Government have already noted that, in some areas, they may not have enough providers rated good or outstanding to cover all the children entitled to the two-year-old offer, and will have to utilise providers who are graded as ‘requiring improvement’. PACEY has consistently argued that the ability to deliver the free entitlement should be limited to good quality providers to ensure that vulnerable children are getting the best possible quality of care.'
Anne Longfield, chief Executive of 4Children, said, 'These new figures are encouraging.
'But we also have a responsibility to ensure that the childcare on offer recognises the distinct needs of children of this age. This means the highest quality of support to enable children to develop and learn through play and discovery.'