More funding for disadvantaged two-year-old places urgently needed, as government figures reveal take-up has fallen

Karen Faux
Friday, June 28, 2019

While more children are accessing the ‘free’ 30-hour places for three and four-year-olds, fewer disadvantaged two-year-olds are taking up 15 hours. Under-funding for both the 30 and 15 hour offers is affecting the ability of providers to offer places for all children, say sector organisations.

According to the latest statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) on funded places, the offer for three and four-years olds continues to be in high demand from parents, with 92 per cent of threes and 95 per cent of fours accessing their entitlements.

But at the same time the number of two-year-olds accessing funded places has dropped by 6,200. In January there were 148,800 eligible twos taking up the 15 hours, down from 154,200 in January 2018.

The DfE claims this decline –  from 72 per cent of twos in 2018 to 68 per cent this year – is partly due to a change in the number of children who are eligible. The number of available places for twos has dropped only slightly – down from 22,700 in 2018 to 22,600 in 2019.

A total 35,800 settings provided the extended hours of early education to three- and four-year-old children, which is an increase of five per cent compared with 2018.

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

Impact of under-funding for ‘free’ offers
These statistics echo the findings of the Education Institute Policy’s recent report which flagged up a possible trade-off between provision for disadvantaged twos and that for three-and four-year-olds. It concluded that recent policy changes may be unintentionally creating a disparity in deciding which children are prioritised for early years provision.

At National Day Nurseries Association, head of policy and external relations Jonathan Broadberry said: ‘NDNA’s annual survey report last year revealed that half of respondent nurseries said they could not cover their delivery costs on the funding rates they were given for two-year-old places. Giving disadvantaged two-year-olds early support is crucial for them to reach their full potential, so funding issues must be addressed if we are to close the attainment gap.’

The data in this latest Government report underlines that the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) are delivering the majority of places.

'Trapped by red tape'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, ‘While it is good that the majority of three- and four-year-olds are taking up some form of funded early education in a good or outstanding setting, the continued decline in the uptake of the two-year-old offer needs to be considered as a matter of urgency.

‘These children would most benefit from quality early education and more needs to be done to encourage families to take up their entitlement. The number of childminders now offering funded place is positive, but it hides a story of low funding rates, delayed payments and other "red tape”. Many childminders are offering places because they feel they have to or risk losing the families they support to other providers offering 30 hours.’

Ms Bayram urged the Government to use the spending review to address the shortfall.

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