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Children’s minister launches consultation to expand free early education

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

The children’s minister has launched a consultation asking for views on which two-year-olds should benefit from the next phase of the roll out of free early education.

In the consultation, the Government said that two-year-olds from families who meet the criteria for free school meals will continue to be eligible.

The Department for Education has also proposed that two-year-old children should get free early education if they:

• are in low income families earning no more than £16,190 each year

• have special educational needs or a disability

• have been in care and been adopted

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, said: “A decent early education can make a huge difference to the start a child’s progress, unlocking their potential to help them follow their ambitions.

“All children should have a fair chance to get on in life, which is why we're extending free childcare to forty per cent of two-year-olds. Today's consultation is about making sure we get that right.”

Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, said: “There is compelling evidence that early education, through play and stories, helps young children prepare for school in their crucial early years. We have an ambitious programme to roll out free early education and it is vital that this support, backed by funding rising to £760m by 2014-15, is targeted towards those who need it.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) welcomed the proposed eligibility criteria for funded two-year-old early education places but added that she hoped "local authorities and the government will have a comprehensive strategy in place to make sure eligible families are aware of the offering".

She also said that "to secure the quality and long-term sustainability of the free nursery education offer NDNA recommends that hourly rates are set at a viable level. We welcome the fact that funding for two year old places will be ring fenced in the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). Local authorities must ensure they direct the money they receive for funded places to early years, so that providers are funded at a sustainable level."

“NDNA is pleased children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) will be eligible for funded two year old places, as this will offer parents much-needed support. We are also pleased that there will be some flexibility in this, so children with disabilities, who may not be classified as having SEN at age two, can also access the entitlement. NDNA is keen that the funding nurseries receive will reflect the additional care that children with SEN or a disability may need, for example being looked after on a one:one basis or provision of specialist equipment."

From September 2013, under the first phase of the entitlement, the least advantaged 20 per cent of two-year-olds will receive free early education.

The Government is trialling the delivery of this first phase in ten areas in England later this year.

The new entitlement for two-year-olds builds on the universal free entitlement for three and four-year-old children across England.

Children are entitled to free school meals if their parents receive any of the following benefits: income support; job seekers’ allowance; employment and support allowance; or child tax credit with an income of less than £16,190 providing they are not receiving working tax credit.

Image: Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, credit Liberal Democrats


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