There are now 166,920 two-year-olds accessing some free early years education, equivalent to 68 per cent of twos eligible for the offer, according to statistics published by the Department for Education today.
This means there are now 9,880 more two-year-olds accessing the free places than in 2015.
The statistics are based on census data collected from schools, maintained nurseries, local authorities and private, voluntary and independent providers in January 2016.
The figures also show that the proportion of twos in maintained nursery schools and nursery classes in schools has risen from 3 per cent in 2014 to 9 per cent in 2016.
Meanwhile, the number of twos in PVI settings has dropped from 96 per cent in 2014 to 91 per cent in 2016.
The number of twos in good or outstanding settings is slightly down from 85 per cent to 84 per cent. There has also been a slight rise in twos attending inadequate settings to 4 per cent of twos (6,340), up from 3 per cent last year.
The number of three-and four-year-olds using some funded early education was 1,339,430, equivalent to 95 per cent of children in this age group, with the estimated participation rate the same as last year.
For the first time the statistics include details on the number of children eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP). The figures show that there are 11.5 per cent of three-year-olds recorded as eligible for the EYPP and 12.1 per cent of four-year-olds. (Note the DfE classes these as 'experimental statistics' because they are new.)
Commenting, James Hempsall, director of Hempsall’s and national support director for Achieving Two Year Olds, said, ‘I am delighted to read these new statistics, collected in January this year. Over the past four years we have seen many thousands of two-year-olds benefit from this new entitlement and I am thrilled it is here to stay as a key part of the Government's narrowing the gap strategies.
‘Sixty-eight per cent is a marvelous achievement from the less than 20,000 children in their places in 2012.
He added, ‘There is still some more to do. I would like to see the 32 per cent currently not using places to do so. That does take time. It took 10 years for three and four year olds. So who knows, in five years’ time we could be seeing take up well into the ninety percent range.’
Today was also the last day of the Achieving Two year Olds contract. The Government is currently tendering for a two-year contract to support the 30-hours free childcare scheme, which will include an element to expand and maintain the number of funded two-year-olds.
The winning bidder is expected to be named in August.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said he was pleased that there had been a significant increase in the number of two-year-olds accessing the funded places.
But he added that it was ‘vital that this progress is not undermined' by the 30-hours policy.
‘If funding for the new scheme is not sufficient, there is a danger childcare providers may be forced to reduce the number of places available for disadvantaged two-year-olds that deliver additional hours to three- and four-year-olds,’ he said.
‘While we recognise that this is a period of political uncertainty, it is vital that the Government ensures that all eligible children who require a childcare place will have access to one. Any early years policy that benefits one group of children to the detriment of another is a flawed policy – as such, it’s essential that the DfE looks to address, rather than dismiss the very valid concerns that the sector has around funding and capacity.’