Supporting disadvantaged families through free early education and childcare entitlements in England

(Originally posted to on 15th March 2020)

The National Audit Office has published (13/03/20) on their web site their research into the provision of early years education, and produced a report on the Government’s provision of free early education and childcare. Ther NAO are charged with looking at how the government achieve value for money. In this case they examined:

  • whether disadvantaged families are accessing the entitlements;
  • whether the supply of free early education and childcare is sufficient and high-quality in deprived areas; and
  • whether families and children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are benefiting from the entitlements.

Where possible the NAO assessment focused on disadvantaged families specifically and compared their position with more advantaged families to assess variations in support.

What the NAO found, was not surprising,. The Conservative government’s strategy is not sufficiently targeting the most deprived and is likely to lead to a widening of the disadvantage gap.

Report Conclusions

Nearly all families in England with young children are getting some benefit from DfE’s entitlements to free early education and childcare. Since we last reported on this topic in 2016, take-up of the universal entitlement has remained high, the extended entitlement has become established, and the overall quality of provision has improved.

DfE has had less success in making sure disadvantaged families specifically are effectively supported through the provision of the entitlements, with lower take-up and poorer-quality provision in deprived areas. This creates a risk that the gap between the development of disadvantaged children and their peers will grow rather than narrow, with a detrimental impact on DfE’s ambitions to improve social mobility. DfE therefore needs to do more to secure value for money and ensure disadvantaged families benefit at least as much as others from the entitlements.


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