- From today 20 per cent of two-year-olds will be eligible for funding
- Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the number will rise to 260,000 next September
- The scheme is being opened up to families that earn less than £16,910 a year and receive working tax credits
00:00 GMT, 2 September 2013
00:22 GMT, 2 September 2013
The number of two-year-olds receiving free childcare will double as a government scheme is extended to working families on low incomes.
From today, 130,000 youngsters – 20 per cent of two-year-olds – will be eligible for funding because their families qualify for Free School Meals or they are looked after by their local authority.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has revealed that next September, the number will rise to 260,000, or 40 per cent of the cohort.
Parents who qualify will be able to claim up to 15 hours a week of free early education for their child
The scheme is being opened up to families that earn less than £16,910 a year and receive working tax credits.
Children who have been adopted, are in care or have a disability or special educational needs will also benefit from next year.
The Coalition is investing £534million in the scheme this year, rising to £760million in 2014/15.
Parents who qualify will be able to claim up to 15 hours a week of free early education for their child.
Mr Clegg will outline the overhaul in a speech today, stressing that the government is helping more children achieve a ‘brighter start in life’
He said: ‘All the evidence shows that if you take two children – two five-year-olds hanging up their coats next to each other on the first day of school – the poorer child will already be behind their better off classmate before a single lesson has been taught.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has revealed that next September, the number will rise to 260,000
‘Without this help, children suffer and the whole class suffers as teachers have to focus more of their efforts on children who are frustrated and left behind through no fault of their own.
‘I believe that every British family, whatever its structure, background and circumstances, should be able to get on in life.’ The free childcare entitlement for two-year-olds was announced in the 2010 spending review.
From last September, ten trial areas including Blackpool, Cornwall, Greenwich, Kent, Lambeth and Newcastle introduced the scheme, benefiting almost 1,000 two-year-olds.
Speaking at the time, Mr Clegg said that parents would be given the option to spread their free nursery place over two days, rather than three, and to use the free hours between 7am and 7pm rather than 8am to 6pm.
This was intended to make it easier to fit the childcare around working lives.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance yesterday welcomed the expansion but warned that the scheme would not achieve its goal of giving two-year-olds a good start in life without proper funding.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the alliance, said: ‘From taking part in the pilot scheme for two-year-olds, we are acutely aware that many of these young children from struggling families will have additional needs requiring specialist one-to-one help.
‘Indeed, from our experience, we estimate that the true cost of providing such care could be double the amount per place the government has allocated.’
He said that the early years sector ‘fully supported’ the government plans but was wary of getting involved because many child carers have provided free places at a loss under a similar scheme for three and four-year-olds.
He added: ‘The free early years entitlement scheme for three and four-year-olds has been historically underfunded by successive governments.
‘We cannot afford such underfunding to continue indefinitely and trust that now the government is extending the scheme to this younger age group that the higher costs of providing care to these children will be recognised and fully met.’
Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, warned that nursery closures could impede the delivery of free childcare.
He said: ‘We are concerned that loss of nursery provision in children’s centres is impacting on local authorities’ ability to find sufficient places for the offer.’
New research by the Family and Childcare Trust – to be published this month – indicates that a minimum of 108 nurseries across England have closed or were never commissioned as they were supposed to be
Mr Shukla added: ‘Cost savings have driven nursery closures and this approach reduces capacity in the system which will damage government hopes of meeting its targets for provision of childcare for two-year-olds.’
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Free childcare for 130,000 more children: Number of two-year-olds receiving free care set to double
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