Making the announcement at a Policy Exchange event on early years education, childcare minister Sam Gyimah said the 26 schools will be given £10,000 each to “draw out the best ways of opening schools up to two-year-olds” and help other settings develop their own provision.
The schools have been drawn from the Department for Education trial two-year-olds in schools project, which was launched with 49 settings earlier in the year by previous childcare minister Elizabeth Truss, with schools given grants to invest in classroom resources or staff training.
Gyimah said in his speech that parents whose children attended schools involved in the trial project were “overwhelmingly positive” about it, praising the greater flexibility it gave them to fit childcare around work commitments.
He added: “The children enjoyed attending, their speech improved, and their social development was also boosted as a result. So there has been some great feedback already.”
The DfE confirmed that the 23 schools from the trial that are not going on to become "champions" for the two-year-old scheme will continue to provide early education places for young children.
Gyimah also called for more schools to form partnerships with private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries to offer childcare provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds under the government scheme. He said that while 44 per cent of schools have nursery provision, “only a few hundred” offer the 15 hours of free care per week to disadvantaged children.
To this end, he said that the £5m Teaching Schools Alliances fund would be used to develop partnerships between PVI providers and schools that wanted to improve education standards for young children in deprived areas. The fund has received 144 bids with successful projects expected to be announced soon.
Gyimah said: “Schools with great early years provision should be sharing their practice with others and offering support to those who are struggling. Schools can also learn from the very best PVI providers, particularly when it comes to disadvantaged two-year-olds. And a condition for bids was that the teaching school should show how the PVI sector will be involved in the project.”
In response to a question about the rates paid to providers by government for offering free two-year-old places, the minister said that he wanted settings to be “more creative” in the way they delivered free education.
Childcare providers have warned that the rate they receive from local authorities is often less than the cost of providing a place, and could be why some areas are struggling to find sufficient places for all two-year-olds that need them.
Gyimah said: “What I would like to see is more clarity from local authorities on how much of the money ends up with providers. So we know that the rate we’re funding actually gets to providers.”