For those of us working in the coalition Government to enhance early education, this summer is a busy one.
Like many of you, we will continue to work throughout the summer to deliver our commitment to roll out free early education to two-year-olds. In just a few months' time the first trials of the full entitlement will begin in ten areas in England.
To help these and every other local authority to prepare, we have appointed Mott MacDonald to support councils to make sure that there are enough nursery places and to help ensure a high-quality service.
We are also already looking ahead to 2014 when 40 per cent of two-year-olds will benefit from 15 hours of free early education each week. We are currently consulting on which 40 per cent of two-year-olds should receive this free early education. In the current economic climate, it's particularly important we get that right, and I hope you will contribute to that conversation.
We are investing a lot of money in the new early education entitlement: we will be spending £760 million by 2015, making a huge difference to the lives of more than a quarter of a million two-year-olds. I am delighted that so many of you are keen to join us in this crusade. A majority of members of the Pre School Learning Alliance and the National Day Nurseries Association have said they are likely to get involved with the two-year-old entitlement.
I know that delivering free early education to more than quarter of a million two-year-olds may feel ambitious, but I have every confidence that you can deliver.
Just last week (Friday 13 July) we published benchmarking information about local authority early years services. This improves the transparency of data on funding for free early education as well as factors such as take-up, quality of provision and children's outcomes. The information is available on the Department for Education's website and you, parents and others will be able to use it to compare their local authority with those of a similar make up.
This and other recently published data emphasises the success of the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds.
Statistics published last month show that more than 1,264,000 young children benefited from free early education in 2012. Parents are happy with the service that you are delivering. Almost 90 per cent of parents said they were satisfied with free early education. And we have achieved tremendous reach: 96 per cent of three and four-year-olds are benefiting from this service.
There are now 450 more nurseries than there were one year ago. This underlines how valuable the free entitlement is to you, and this greater choice has got to be good for parents too.
INVESTING TO DO MORE
A report published last month demonstrates that we have a world-class early education system. Starting Well, which was produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked the UK fourth out of 45 countries in terms of quality, availability and affordability of our early education for three to six-year-olds, putting us ahead of Denmark, France and the Netherlands.
These are impressive findings and I want to congratulate you on the service you are providing across England. This is testimony to your dedication and professionalism.
I know that early educational professionals take up the career because they care passionately about the well-being of our young children. The new investment we are making gives us a unique opportunity to do more. Now is the time to be thinking about investing for the future when 40 per cent of two-year-olds will join those three and four-year-olds who are already benefiting from free early education.
Ultimately this is all about giving children the best possible start in life. This is what parents want and I know that you want this too. You will have seen that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Maria Miller, and I have been asked to lead a commission on childcare. I am really keen that the work of the commission is informed by the views and experiences of those who work in childcare, so do keep an eye out for opportunities to contribute.