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In September 2010 all three- and four-year-olds became entitled to 15 hours a week of free early education, an increase from 12.5 hours a week. Now over 95 per cent of three- and four-year-olds access their free entitlement.
All 152 local authorities in England have been delivering a targeted offer of between 10 and 15 hours free early education to some of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds since September 2009.
The Government has now committed to extending this to around 20 per cent of the least advantaged two-year-olds, around 150,000 children from September 2013. In May 2012 the Government confirmed that two-year-olds who live in households which meet the eligibility criteria for free school meals will be entitled to a free early education place, along with children who are looked after by the state.
In October 2012 regulations - cited as the Local Authority (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Regulations 2012 - were laid which set out the eligibility criteria for the first phase of the two-year-old entitlement to free early education from September 2013.
Additional funding is being provided to local authorities rising to £760 million in 2014-15. The Government is also investing over £5 million in 2012-13 to help build capacity, fund places and trial new approaches, including a series of local authority trials and a national contractor to support local authorities and providers to prepare for the expansion.
From September 2014 the number of two-year-olds who will be entitled to a place will rise to around 40 per cent of two-year-olds. The Government proposes to build on the eligibility criteria for the first phase – so children who meet the free school meals criteria or who are looked after would continue to be eligible - and to extend free places to more low-income families, two-year-olds with special educational needs or disabilities, and those who have left care but are unable to return home.
The Government recently finished consulting on the proposed eligibility criteria for the second phase and is currently considering responses.
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