Over a third of schools struggling with funding places for two year olds

Schools who have trialled extending pre-school sessions to two year olds have been mainly successful in starting to deliver places, but over a third face challenges finding funding to continue provision, according to a report for the Department of Education.

Schools who have trialled extending pre-school sessions to two year olds have been mainly successful in starting to deliver places, but over a third face challenges finding funding to continue provision, according to a report for the Department of Education.

The Government is looking to introduce legislation to allow school nurseries to take two year olds. The most deprived two year olds are eligible for 15 hours' free funding and this will be extended to around 40% of two year olds later this year. 

The DfE study was designed by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) in partnership with Frontier Economics for the Department for Education (DfE) to examine approaches being taken to developing two year old provision among 49 schools during the academic year September 2013 – July 2014.

It found that the majority of schools surveyed had been successful in setting up and starting to deliver places for two year olds. Eight out of the ten schools who were not yet delivering places aimed to do so between February-May 2014. 

However, a number reported challenges around: registration with Ofsted (30%), identifying sources of finance (34%) and considering future financial sustainability (37%).  Moreover, almost seven in 10 schools said they would welcome support and advice on sources of funding, and sustainability. More than one in four also said they would welcome further information and support regarding developing approaches to working in partnership with parents and supporting the emotional, learning and development needs of two year olds.Thirteen schools reported it challenging to develop their workforce in order to provide high quality (level of experience and training) staff with capacity to meet the needs of two year olds and indicated they would welcome support and information on how to improve this (29%).

Most schools were currently or planning to deliver provision by themselves (76%), but around one in 10 were working with private providers (9%) or children's centres (9%). Almost all provision was based or planned to be  based on the main school site, usually within the main school building (56%). 

The average number of places schools offered or planned to offer was 16.  The majority of schools indicated that these were or would be part-time places only, offered as morning or afternoon sessions across five days a week. Over half of schools said they expected to increase the number of places offered over the 2013/2014 academic year. 

The majority of schools offered or planned to offer places in the morning and afternoon (80%) five days a week (98%). Half of these schools already allowed or planned to allow flexibility for families to ‘mix and match’ which mornings/afternoons their child attended, while the remaining half did not. 

Almost all schools currently providing for two year olds were integrating two and three year olds together to some extent (92%), but challenges relating to building work or changes to physical spaces had delayed progress for others. Just under two in five schools were offering parents the opportunity to pay for top-up hours (38%) and/or offer additional care around sessions (36%), with just a small further proportion expecting to start to offer this later in the year. 

Three quarters of schools filled all of their available two year old places by the time of the survey fieldwork (74%). Schools used many methods to 
engage parents and inform them of places available, including home visits and parents’ evenings. They also shared information via local connections, for example children’s centre staff and health visitors. 

Neil Leith, Chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: “The results of this survey demonstrate the problems that arise when policy-making is based on ideology rather than research and consultation. The government has been so eager to push ahead with its plans to place two-year-olds in schools – despite the continued opposition of parents and providers – that it has neglected to fully consider whether these plans are actually workable in practice.

“As those that work in the private, voluntary and independent sector are already well aware, the provision of two-year-old places has significant cost implications. Providers are often required to adapt or expand their premises, hire additional staff, and ensure that existing staff are adequately trained to meet the specific emotional and development needs of the children who will be taking up these places. To date, the sector’s repeated calls for increased funding for the scheme have been ignored by government, and yet here we have schools citing precisely the same concerns.

“If the two-year-old scheme is to succeed, the government must accept that high-quality provision doesn’t come cheap. Pushing two-year-olds into schools as a cut-costing measure is, as the survey results demonstrate, not a feasible solution in the long term. We urge the Department for Education to start working with all early years providers, not just schools, to develop this offer in a sustainable way, so that we can be confident that the best possible early education and care will be given to those children who need it the most in the years to come.”


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