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A new report shows the number of poorer two year olds accessing free childcare is falling while the number of three and four year olds getting free care is increasing.
The number of eligible two year olds from disadvantaged areas who are benefiting from free childcare fell from 72% to 68% in 2019, according to Government figures.
A Department of Education report says this is mainly due to fewer children benefiting from the entitlement, but has also been partly affected by a change in the calculation of the eligible population.
Meanwhile, the report shows that the number of three and four year olds benefiting from the 30 hours free childcare policy increased by 11%. It estimates that around four out of five eligible children have taken up some extended hours.
In September 2017, the government doubled the funded early education entitlement for three and four year olds for working families who meet the eligibility criteria to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.
A report out in December suggested a link between take-up of the two year olds policy and the three and four year olds policy. Thirty eight per cent of local authorities questioned for the report said that the introduction of the 30 hours funded early education entitlements for three and four year olds of eligible working parents had caused difficulties for the implementation of the disadvantaged two year old offer.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said: “It’s extremely concerning to see any drop in the number of two-year-olds accessing a funded place.
“Sadly, this has been on the cards for some time because, as we have repeatedly warned ministers, underfunding has made it increasingly difficult for providers to deliver places for all children cost effectively. However, the problem is even greater for those trying to offer two-year-old funded places because, the gap between average funding rates and providers costs is now 37%.
“The children entitled to these places are some of those who would benefit most from early education so any government should be concerned about this. The fact that this drop is happening under a government forever talking up the importance of social mobility is especially frustrating. Ministers now need to reflect on where their stubbornness on early years funding is leaving our most vulnerable children and look to increase funding levels as a matter of urgency.”