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Ofsted is calling for disadvantaged two-year-olds to benefit from the free early years education that they are entitled to.
Their latest report, 'Unknown Children - destined for disadvantage?' has revealed around 80,000 eligible children did not take up their free place at an early years setting last year, the equivalent to almost one third of all eligible children in England.
Since the last report (published June 2015), there has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of two-year-olds from low income families taking up the Government’s offer of free early years education.
Ofsted is urging tens of thousands of thousands of children from some of England's most disadvantaged areas to benefit from the unspent £200m.
Writing in the commentary published with the report, HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “It is clear from our survey that some local authorities, schools and early years settings are making effective use of the funding available to them to give poorer children the good start they so desperately need. Strong leaders at the town hall level, as well as in individual schools and settings, are demonstrably strategic, innovative and committed to making a difference.
Driving social mobility and improving outcomes
“However, there was a discernible lack of such ambition in a number of the local authorities we visited. Any potential for improving the prospects of the most disadvantaged young children was too often thwarted by weak leadership, ineffective managerial oversight, duplication and inefficiency. In these councils, Government funding was not being used in a sufficiently targeted, coordinated way to make a difference.
“It is clear from our findings that action is needed on a national and local level to address these variations and to ensure the weakest places learn from the best. Early education has the potential to drive social mobility and improve outcomes for the next generation. We should not let them down.”
The report published was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, and aims to offer an insight into how local authorities, schools and registered early years providers are supporting disadvantaged children living in some of the most deprived communities.
Local authorities are currently responsible for improving outcomes for young children in their area, reducing inequalities and ensuring that there is enough high-quality early years support and childcare for parents in the local area.
'Local authorities lacking ambition'
In addition to funded place for disadvantaged two-year-olds, the Government has already implemented the early years pupil premium for the poorest three and four-year-olds.
Local authorities are responsible for checking which children in their areas are eligible for support through these funding streams and should money to early years providers in their areas.
Though the quality of early years education has improved greatly, with 86 per cent of early years providers now rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in their most recent Ofsted inspections, still almost half of the most disadvantaged children are not equipped with the essential skills, knowledge and understanding expected by the time they finish reception.
The report highlights possible reasons for this, including the number of children living in the most likely deprived areas having less access to high-quality early education. In the most affluent areas, just eight per cent of children are in an early years provision that is rated less than ‘Good’, whereas children living in the most deprived areas, the figure more than doubles to 18 per cent.
Better funding crucial to supporting disadvantaged two-year-olds
Responding the report, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Purnima Tanuku, said: “It’s great that the benefit of high-quality early years education for disadvantaged two year olds is recognised in this report.
“The private, voluntary and independent nursery sector offers the vast majority of these places with only nine per cent provided by schools.
“The good news is that according to the recently-released National Statistics: Education provision: Children under-five years of age, January 2016, take-up has risen to 68 per cent, compared with 58 per cent last year. But there is clearly more work to be done to ensure as many disadvantaged two-year-olds as possible are able to take up the places they are entitled to.
“The report highlights the need to make sufficient numbers of high-quality places available. Better funding levels is the key to ensuring this. Chronic underfunding is causing some nurseries limit the numbers of two-year-old funded places that they are able to offer.
“The NDNA’s Annual Nursery Survey 2016 found 54 per cent of nurseries offering free two-year-old places made an annual average loss of £718 per child or £6,463 in total per nursery. This shortfall must be made up elsewhere, through fees for paying parents, simply to allow nurseries to balance their books and stay in business.
“The NDNA agrees with recommendations to streamline and simplify early years funding and is recommending a Childcare Passport initiative to allow funding to follow the child The NDNA is also campaigning for nurseries to receive at least the same levels of Early Years Pupil Premium funding as primary schools.”
Chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Neil Leitch, welcomed the report calling for more to be done to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the early years. He said: "We have long argued that all children, regardless of background, should get the best possible start in life, and yet all too often, a child's postcode ends up defining their chances of success in later life. This has to change.
’Children in need of support will lose out’
"There's no doubt that high-quality early education plays a critical role in supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and in helping to close the gap between these children and their wealthier peers. That said, quality costs, and the fact remains that many early years settings - and particularly those in disadvantaged areas - continue to struggle as a result of a lack of adequate funding.
"This has meant that for many, delivering funded two-year-old places - which often involves providing one-to-one care and spending a significant amount of time working with external agencies - is not financially sustainable, and so we are not surprised that many councils describe finding enough providers to deliver these places as a 'constant challenge'.
"What's more, with the impending roll-out of the 30 hour free childcare offer, there is a danger that access to these places will be reduced even further as providers have to make a choice between creating more places for three- and four-year-olds and retaining their two-year-old places.
"The Government must tackle this problem urgently and ensure that its actions matches its rhetoric. If it doesn't, it is those children most in need of support who will lose out."
Chief executive of PACEY, Liz Bayram said: “Even though more children than ever before are utilising free early education places, the most deprived communities are not being reached. It is those children, from the poorest backgrounds, for whom high quality early years education can make the most difference.
"We recognise the vital role that childcare professionals play in giving children the best start in life and it is critical that local authorities, settings and government come together alongside sector representatives to find a way to reach those most in need.”
Ofsted’s early education deputy director, Gill Jones, commented: “Our survey found many examples of early years settings providing rich experiences for poorer children.
“However, it is clear that young children from poorer backgrounds often do not get the support to which they are entitled. I want all early years settings to make sure that key information is shared promptly at the point of transition, so that the needs of children from poorer families are known quickly.
“Many early years settings are making effective use of the early years pupil premium, but I want all of them to ensure that this additional support is focused on improving the areas of development which help children catch up.”
To read the full report, visit: www.gov.uk/government/publications/helping-disadvantaged-young-children-ofsted-thematic-report.