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Free Government-funded childcare closes gap in early years take-up

16 July 2015 | Tags: early years education

A new report from a longitudinal study funded by the Department for Education looking at the impact of early years provision in England has been published today.

The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) report by NatCen Social Research shows that free Government-funded childcare provision for two-year-olds has closed the gap in take up of early years education between the most disadvantaged two-year-olds and children from wealthier backgrounds.

Children from the most disadvantaged 20% of families were the least likely to receive formal childcare before age two. Only 7% of these children received formal childcare before the age of 12 months and only 15% between one and two years old, compared with 20% and 36% respectively for all children in the study. However, after turning two, children in the most disadvantaged families were almost as likely to receive formal childcare as all children in the study (58% compared with 60%). The vast majority of the most disadvantaged families receiving formal childcare at age two were taking advantage of the free hours of childcare that Government funds for two-year-olds from lower income families.

The study also highlights differences in language skills and behavioural development according to disadvantage:

  • The most disadvantaged children had less developed language skills and were reported to show lower levels of social and behavioural development than children who were not disadvantaged.
  • Parents from the most disadvantaged families were less likely to engage in home learning activities with their child.

Dr Svetlana Speight, Research Director at NatCen Social Research, said: “The SEED baseline report has given us an important insight into the take-up of early years provision. We will continue to follow these families for a number of years to assess the impact of early education on their early lives.”

Childcare and Education Minister, Sam Gyimah, said: “I am pleased that today’s report recognises the very real benefits of early years education for our youngest children. This is why we offer 15 hours of completely free childcare per week for two-year-olds. And take-up is higher than ever with 166,000 children benefitting. The government’s offer, alongside the £50 million Early Years Pupil Premium, will help ensure children from all backgrounds are ready to make a successful transition to primary school and give them the best start in life.”

The report also reveals that the 20% most disadvantaged families in England:

  • Were mostly lone parents (72%)
  • Had a high proportion of young mothers: 33% of mothers were under 25
  • Were mainly households where neither parent was in work (82%)
  • Had mothers mostly with low educational attainment: 30% had no academic qualifications at all, and only 5% had a degree.

The SEED baseline report is published in advance of impact reports which will be available later in the evaluation exploring the extent to which early years provision matters for child outcomes; the final report will be published in 2020.


The full baseline study is available online here.

For more information contact Sophie Brown: 020 7549 9550 or 07734 960 069

Notes to Editors

The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) is a major longitudinal study which will follow around 6,000 two-year-olds from across England through to the end of KS1 (age 7). The study is being carried out by NatCen Social Research, working with the University of Oxford, 4Children and Frontier Economics, on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE).

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