The first few years of a child’s life are fundamentally important. In July the Department for Education published two policy statements for the early years – Families in the Foundation Years and Supporting Families in the Foundation Years.
These statements set out the Government’s plan for further reform, focusing on giving young children and their families the support they need at the earliest opportunity. For example, a major part of this work is the extension of the free entitlement to disadvantaged two year olds from September 2013. This extension will mean an increase in the number of 2 year old places nationally from 20,000 per year to around 140,000 per year.
Government also made clear that promoting child development in the Foundation Years is critical to ensuring children aged five are ready to take full advantage of their next stage of learning. In this context the Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, has launched a major early education and childcare consultation.
Specifically, the consultation seeks views on a range of proposals, including:
- Eligibility criteria for the new entitlement to free early education for disadvantaged 2 year olds, based on the income and benefits criteria which are also used to determine eligibility for free school meals;
- A basket of clearly defined ‘quality measures’ which clarify eligibility criteria requirements providers need to meet to deliver free early education places;
- Streamlined draft Statutory Guidance to Local Authorities on the delivery of free early education for 2,3 and 4 year olds. Government wants to reduce national prescription and give LAs greater local discretion to enable more children to access their free entitlement. They propose reducing the guidance from over 100 pages to under 20;
- A more flexible free entitlement which can be taken between 7am and 7pm instead of 8am and 6pm, and spread across a minimum of two days instead of the current three days; and
- Improving the information parents receive from local authorities on sufficiency of childcare in their area, whilst also reducing the bureaucratic burdens on LAs. The consultation proposes an annual report to parents to replace the overly bureaucratic childcare sufficiency assessment that local authorities must currently do every three years.
The consultation will run until 3 February and is primarily aimed at local authorities and providers of free early education or childcare. The Department for Education would however welcome views from others too, particularly from parents and carers, who may wish to answer individual questions or all questions. Your views are central to Government’s understanding of how to act next.
For more details on the consultation, and how to respond visit the Department for Education’s consultation page.