Early years groups have pointed to the higher cost of providing care for two-year-olds compared with that for three- and four-year-olds as a key barrier to creating places (See Analysis).
A shortage of places is a factor in why only 72 per cent of eligible two-year-olds are taking up the offer, recent NatCen research concludes. Providers say the government needs to boost funding rates to better reflect their costs. This is only part of the solution. Until there is better quality provision in deprived areas, improved communication of the benefits of early education, and more flexibility in accessing the funded entitlements progress will be slow.
NatCen's interviews with parents show many chose not to take up the offer because they wanted to care for young children at home, thought the quality of childcare was poor or did not think early education would benefit their child. These views were expressed particularly by parents from ethnic minority communities, who account for a significant proportion of families entitled to the two-year-old offer in London where take up is lowest.
Some of these concerns are well founded, says June O'Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. For example, children in poor areas are less likely to attend an "outstanding" nursery than affluent peers.
It will take a range of incentives for parents and providers to increase the proportion of disadvantaged two-year-olds accessing 15 hours of funded childcare in the future.
First of all, government-funded social mobility initiatives enhancing childcare provision in deprived areas should be targeted at those areas where two-year-old take up is lowest.
In addition, a public information campaign promoting the benefits of early education - and explaining parents' entitlements - would help win over the hearts and minds of sceptical families from disadvantaged communities. This would put forward evidence on how early education can help accelerate a child's learning and include case studies of families that have benefited. At a local level, parent-led advocacy groups - such as the Parent Champions Network run by Coram Family and Childcare - have proven to be effective at increasing take-up of funded childcare among ethnic minority communities.