‘Poorer two year olds may be missing out on free childcare due to 30 hours offer’

Disadvantaged two year olds may be missing out on free places as some childcare providers prioritise free childcare for three and four year olds.



Some local authorities may be prioritising the 30 hours free care for three and four year olds over free childcare for two year olds due to funding issues, according to a new report.

The Education Policy Institute report says there is a possible trade-off going on between the free entitlement for disadvantaged two-year olds and take-up of the 30 hours entitlement for three- and four- year olds.

The entitlement for two year olds is only available to the most disadvantaged children. The 30 hours is available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage, and less than £100,000 per year.

The report points to a wide variation across local authorities in provision of ‘free’ childcare hours. It says that in some authorities where take-up of the 30 hours entitlement has increased, there has been a decrease or slowing down of take-up of the two-year old entitlement. In others, there has been an increase or acceleration of take-up amongst disadvantaged two year olds. The report says the differences in delivery costs for two year olds and three- and four-year olds could explain the decision of some local authorities to prioritise places.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance’s chief executive Neil Leitch, said: “It’s deeply concerning to see further evidence of a trade-off between the funded childcare available to disadvantaged two-year olds and take-up of the 30 hours entitlement for three- and four- year olds.

“Unfortunately, this is an inevitable consequence of a situation where, according to sector experts Ceeda, more than two in every five (44%) childcare providers have seen their funding fall in in real-terms in the last five years. This has meant that funded places for two year olds – which are more expensive to run – have become too costly for providers already struggling to stay open and reliant on parents who are able to afford ‘voluntary’ charges to make up the funding shortfall.”
A Department for Education report published in December found that 44% of local authorities who replied to its questionnaire had experienced difficulties over the last year in implementing funded early education entitlements for disadvantaged two year olds.

The EPI report also finds that there is no clear relationship showing increased take-up of the 30 hours entitlement leads to an increase in the number of funded places. It says: “This indicates that the 30 hours policy does not clearly stimulate new capacity in the short term, but the full effect may yet to be seen.”

It also finds no evidence that changes to funding rates have had an impact on the take-up of the 15 hours or the 30 hours entitlements in the short run. It  says it is possible that increases in funding may have been absorbed by existing funding pressures or that other variables may have a stronger influence on early years take-up, such as parental work patterns, the relative cost of childcare and the perceived benefits of childcare.

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