Disadvantaged two-year-olds miss out on free childcare as take-up and availability of places stalls

Monday, December 17, 2018

A new report warns that disadvantaged two-year-olds are currently missing out on free childcare. Is the 30-hour offer for children of working parents squeezing out their places?

According to a new Department for Education (DfE) report, more than two in five responding local authorities (44 per cent) said that they had experienced difficulties over the last year in implementing funded early education entitlements for disadvantaged two-year-olds. 

Two-year-olds who meet certain criteria, or whose parents are in receipt of some benefits, are entitled to 15 hours a week funded childcare. All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours a week of free early education. Since September 2017 the entitlement was extended to 30 hours free childcare for families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage, and less than £100,000 per year.

The report, which presents the findings from the fourth wave of the DfE Children’s Services Omnibus Survey, polled local authorities in England and looked at senior local authority and Children’s Services Trust leaders’ perceptions on, and activities relating to, a range of policy areas. These included children’s social care, early years and childcare provision in authorities, and services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities

The most commonly reported difficulty was eligible parents not wanting or needing child care for their two-year-old, with 34 per cent of responding authorities saying that they had experienced this. Twenty per cent of responding authorities reported a lack of funding for publicity, outreach or infrastructure development, and 16 per cent said that they had experienced providers not wanting to offer funded places to eligible two-year-olds.

There was a feeling that the introduction of the 30 hours funded early education entitlements for three-and-four-year-olds of working parents has contributed to the problem. Key issues mentioned were capacity and financial sustainability.

One in five (20 per cent) of responding authorities also reported difficulties in implementing the universal funded early education entitlements of 15 hours for all three-and four-year-olds.

Impact of frozen or falling funding levels
Neil Leitch, chief executive at the Pre-School Learning Alliance, believes the report makes clear that the government is failing some of the country’s most disadvantaged children. ‘Everyone agrees that the early years is a vital in ensuring children get the best start in life – but this report shows that children from low income families, who stand to benefit most from childcare, can’t rely on the government to ensure they’re able to access it,’ he said. 

‘The fact is that ministers were warned repeatedly that providers would struggle to deliver childcare for younger children following the roll out of 30 hours. They chose to ignore those warnings and continue to do so; this study is just the latest to underline the wider impact that frozen and falling funding levels are having, not only providers but also on the children they are able work with. 

‘It’s simply not right that the Government’s flagship childcare policy has meant wealthy parents are receiving funded childcare while those less well-off are not – particularly if one is at the expense of the other. Providers are passionate about helping all children realise their full potential but, until ministers own up to their responsibilities and ensure funding covers the true cost of providing quality childcare, children from poorer backgrounds will continue to miss out.’

Read the full report here



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