Demand for two-year-old places set to rise

Sue Learner
Friday, April 27, 2018

More disadvantaged two-year-olds are to become eligible for ‘free’ early years education, according to the Department for Education (DfE). The changes, which will start in April, are being brought in as part of the overhaul of the benefits system with the roll out of Universal Credit.

PPS/CC

More disadvantaged two-year-olds are to become eligible for ‘free’ early years education, according to the Department for Education (DfE). The changes, which will start in April, are being brought in as part of the overhaul of the benefits system with the roll out of Universal Credit.

The proposals are set out in the Government’s response to two consultations, which covered eligibility for free school meals and the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP), and a separate consultation on the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds under Universal Credit.

Under the plans the Government will introduce an annual net earned income threshold of £15,400 for the two-year-old offer.

It has also confirmed it will introduce a net earning threshold for free school meals (FSM) of £7,400, roughly equivalent to a household income of between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account. The same criteria will be used to determine eligibility for the EYPP, which gives extra funding to early years settings to boost the attainment of pupils from low income families.

Childcare Minister, Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘Tens of thousands more children will be entitled to free school meals by 2022 compared to the previous benefits system.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), welcomed the ethos of supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds, saying: ‘High quality early education is the best way to narrow the inequality gap.’

However she added: ‘The Government cannot just expect early years settings to be able to offer enough places for all eligible two-year-olds with the current funding rate. Our research shows that fewer nurseries are offering these places and more are planning to reduce the number of places they deliver so they can remain sustainable.’

Ms Tanuku emphasised it is crucial that the hourly rate for these children meets nurseries’ costs as their parents may not be able to afford to pay additional charges for meals and snacks.

She said: ‘We are pleased that more children will benefit from the EYPP but this money should match the amount received by schools. Investing more in early years will pay dividends in later schooling.’

The NDNA would like the Government to align the EYPP with eligibility for the two-year-old childcare offer which is available to a larger number of children, saying ‘then they would capture all those who really need this early boost’.

The Government has confirmed that no child who has started their two-year-old early education place will lose it as a result of the new proposal.

The DfE claims that by 2022 around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal compared to the previous benefits system. In addition, it estimates that by 2023 around 7,000 more children will benefit from the two-year-old entitlement.

Read the Government’s consultation response: ‘Eligibility for free school meals, the early years pupil premium and the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds under universal credit’ at http://bit.ly/2nPb99B

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