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At present, all three and four year olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of free early education for 38 weeks of the year. The Coalition Government extended the 15 hours entitlement to disadvantaged two year olds from certain groups. Children can take their entitlement at any participating early years’ provider or providers with spaces, including schools, private nurseries, childminders or children’s centres. Local authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient childcare places available. Funded provision is only part of the picture, as many parents pay for extra hours in excess of current entitlements.

The Government plans that an extra 15 hours – taking the total up to 30 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year – will be available nationally across England from September 2017 for eligible working parents of three- and four- year olds.

Key points

  • The Government currently provides significant investment in free early education for young children, a key aim of which is to support development, address disadvantage and prepare children for later life and school. It has plans to expand this, but there are concerns about funding and implementation.
  • Take-up of currently available funded early education is high, but take-up among disadvantaged children is lower than for other children and in the case of two-year-olds, lower than the level the Government aspires to.
  • Evidence suggests that quality of early years’ provision is high overall, but deprived areas still have lower quality provision.
  • Ofsted’s assessment in 2015 was that the gap between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers, in terms of early years development and school readiness, was not closing, despite general improvements in outcomes for children as a whole.

The library briefing Children: Introduction of 30 hours of free childcare (England) sets out the details of the policy for an extra 15 hours of free childcare, and highlights issues regarding its delivery by childcare providers.

The library briefing Early Intervention contains Information and analysis on early intervention policies aimed at parents and children from conception to age five, covering health, education, social development and financial benefits. This paper also looks at broader arguments around early intervention as a policy approach

Documents to download

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