Rise in take-up of free childcare for two-year-olds

By Jess Brown

| 01 July 2016

The number of disadvantaged two-year-olds benefiting from free childcare has increased, figures from the Department for Education have revealed.

The number of two-year-olds taking up the government's free childcare offer has increased. Picture: Paul Cousans

The proportion of disadvantaged two-year-olds taking up free education rose from 58 per cent of all eligible children in 2015 to 69 per cent in January 2016.

Despite the increase, the proportion of two-year-olds receiving free childcare is still low compared with rates for three- and four-year-olds, 95 per cent of whom take up the 15 hours per week of free early education.

The free entitlement was first offered to two-year-olds in the poorest 20 per cent of households in September 2013, and was subsequently expanded to the poorest 40 per cent a year later.

Early years groups have expressed concern over the low number of eligible two-year-olds taking up the free entitlement, and in July last year Ofsted called on councils to do more to promote the offer.

There have also been concerns raised that two-year-olds may miss out on childcare when the government expands free childcare for three- and four-year-olds from September next year from 15 to 30 hours.

Predicted lack of capacity and funding may risk nurseries favouring three- and four-year-olds because care is cheaper to deliver.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: it is vital the government ensures the 30-hours offer will not reverse the increase in two-year-olds taking up childcare places.

"That said, it is vital that this progress is not undermined as a result of the introduction of the 30-hour free entitlement.

"If funding for the new scheme is not sufficient, there is a danger that childcare providers may be forced to reduce the number of places available for disadvantaged two-year-olds in order to deliver additional hours to three- and four-year-olds."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "It is great to see that the vast majority of three and four year olds and many more two year olds from disadvantaged families are now benefitting from fifteen hours of free childcare.

"On top of this, more and more providers are stepping up to deliver this offer - with hundreds more childminders and increasing numbers of private and voluntary providers offering this to parents.

"These figures show we are in a great position to double that offer to 30 hours from next September and deliver on our commitment to help hardworking families across the country."

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