Free early education for two year olds


Thousands of disadvantaged two year olds, and those living in care, stand to benefit from an extra year of free early education, under new Government plans.

The free childcare will be offered to parents of 20,000 two-year-olds in the poorest areas, to close the social class gap in education.

Currently, 12 1/2 hours a week is on offer for 38 weeks a year. In October 2010, the Government announced, as part of the Fairness Premium, that it will extend the free entitlement of 15 hours per week – available to every three and four year old – to all disadvantaged two year olds.

The move is an attempt to intervene in the lives of disadvantaged children at the earliest stages of their development but will prove controversial amid claims that prolonged use of institutional care can lead to anti-social behaviour.
The Government also wants local authorities to provide free early education for all two year olds who are looked after by the state. In total, approximately 140,000 two year olds each year will be able to benefit from an extra year of free early education from 2013.

Under the plans, £331m will be available to local authorities in 2013-14 to fund places for two year olds. The Government wants local authorities to consider giving places to other two year olds who may get particular benefit – especially children with special educational needs and disabilities.
The most recent statistics show that fewer than half of all children who live in the most deprived areas achieve a good level of development at age five, compared with nearly 70 per cent of those living in the least deprived areas. Children who have access to high quality early education are more likely to start school ready and able to learn, with the skills they need to succeed.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said: "Early education and childcare is crucial to a child’s development, giving them the opportunity to learn, thrive and play. But far too many children, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, are starting primary school without the skills they need to do well. Evidence shows that attainment gaps can open up as early as 22 months and persist through school.

"If we are to tackle this attainment gap and reduce social inequalities, it’s vital we get children from the poorest backgrounds, including those in care, into high quality early education."

The extension of free places to two-year-olds follows a pilot scheme involving 12,000 youngsters in deprived areas.