Take-up of funded entitlements in England nears pre-pandemic levels

Comparing figures from January 2022 and January 2020, progress is being made towards previous levels of take up of funded early education.

Latest figures from the DfE show that 92% of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds took up their entitlement to 15 hours of early education in January 2022, compared to 93% in 2020. However, this is still the second lowest rate of take-up since 2011 when the current records start.

The proportion of eligible 2-year-olds taking up their entitlement rose from 69% in 2020 to 72% in 2022 (equalling the highest yet percentage in 2018). The percentage of children on the 2-year-old entitlement with SEND has increased from 3.1% in 2018 to 4.1% in 2022.

Due to demographic changes, absolute numbers of children taking their entitlements have fallen in both cases.

The number of children taking up the 30 hours entitlement increased 1% compared to 2020. DfE estimate that approximately 4 in 5 eligible children are taking up this entitlement. Access to the 30 hours entitlement is clearly not spread equally. Children on the 30 hour entitlement are have as likely to have SEND as those on the 15 hour entitlement (6.7% compared to 3.3%). Children on the 30 hours were less likely to be from an ethnic minority than those on the 15 hours (17% compared to 27%).

The number of children in receipt of Early Years Pupil Premium has grown 15% since 2020, although it is not clear to what extent this is due to increasing poverty and to what extent it is caused by changes in the eligibility criteria.

Overall, there have been slight falls since 2020 in the number of Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) providers and childminders offering each of the three entitlements, and a small rise in the number of state schools which offer them. Within the PVI sector, the percentage of staff with a graduate qualification remains at 9%, with the exceptions being independent schools and state-funded governor-run provision.

Government has recently launched campaigns to raise awareness of the various streams of support for early education and childcare including a provider toolkit to help ensure parents are aware of their options. The statistics above suggest that more needs to be done to understand why some groups remain under-represented in taking up their entitlements. Targeted work needs to be undertaken to understand and remove the barriers, particularly as those children who are shown to benefit most from early education are often the least likely to access it.