Around 80,000 disadvantaged children aren’t using free early years education, Ofsted says

Sir Michael Wilshaw hits out at ‘discernible lack of ambition’ in some local authorities

Approximately 80,000 disadvantaged children failed to take up the government’s offer of free early years education last year, an Ofsted survey has found.

Figures released by the inspectorate show that around a third of two-year-olds eligible for free education in England did not benefit from potential funding of more than £200 million.

Ofsted said there had been a 10 per cent increase in the number of two-year-olds from low-income families taking up the funding offer since it reported on the issue in July 2015.

The latest survey was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, to provide a better understanding of how local authorities, schools and registered early years providers were helping the most deprived communities.

Although only 8 per cent of nurseries and other early years providers are judged to be less than good in the most prosperous areas, the equivalent figure is 18 per cent in the most deprived communities.

‘Strong leadership’ vital

In a commentary published alongside the report, Sir Michael said: “It is clear from our survey that some local authorities, schools and early years settings are making effective use of the funding available to them to give poorer children the good start they so desperately need.

“Strong leaders at the town hall level, as well as in individual schools and settings, are demonstrably strategic, innovative and committed to making a difference.

“However, there was a discernible lack of such ambition in a few of the local authorities we visited.”

Ofsted’s report recommends that schools, early years settings and childminders should ensure key information is shared promptly to identify the needs of the most disadvantaged children.

Among a number of other recommendations is a call for local authorities to publish strategies to make sure families are clear about the support available to them.

The Department for Education said in a statement: “It is great that more two-year-olds from disadvantaged families are benefiting from free childcare and more providers are stepping up to deliver this offer – extending opportunity to all.

“We know quality childcare is hugely important for families and key to children’s life chances.”

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