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Early education and childcare resource pack

Early education and childcare resource pack
A child’s earliest years are their foundation; if we give them a great start, they have a much better chance of fulfilling their potential as they grow up. This resource pack looks at the responsibilities and role of councils when it comes to education and childcare, outlines funding entitlements and legislation all of which are incredibly important when it comes to supporting our youngest residents.

What are ‘early childhood services’?

Section 2 of the Childcare Act 2006 identifies early childhood services as early years provision in addition to broader services such as social care and health services. The Act places a duty on councils to improve the wellbeing of young children in their area and reduce inequalities with regard to:

  • physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • protection from harm and neglect
  • education, training and recreation
  • the contribution made by them to society
  • social and economic wellbeing.

This resource pack will focus on childcare and education for children up to the age of five. More information on early childhood services can be found in other LGA publications, including those on children’s services and public health.

What are councils’ responsibilities around early education and childcare?

The council must secure ‘early childhood services’ for the benefit of parents, prospective parents and young children, taking ‘reasonable steps’ to involve parents, early years providers and other relevant people in those arrangements. They must also consider the quantity and quality of services, and where in the area they are provided, and consider the views of young children where possible (Childcare Act 2006, s2).

Councils must also make sure that there is enough childcare available for every eligible child to access their funded early years entitlements for childcare (Childcare Act 2006, s7 and Childcare Act 2016, s1) (see next section). They should also work to identify parents in the area who might not take advantage of early childhood services that could benefit them and their children, and encourage them to take these up (Childcare Act 2006, s3).

There is a duty on councils to provide advice, information and assistance about childcare in their area, including for disabled children, and to make sure this is provided in a way that is best for those who need it (Childcare Act 2006, s12). This is usually provided through their family information service, plus local websites.

Councils must also provide information, advice and training for childcare providers in their area, imposing reasonable charges for this if they wish (Childcare Act 2006, s13).

In sum, the role of the local authority is to:

  • assess the market, need, supply and demand
  • develop a mixed market of diverse provision 
  • attract new providers
  • support high quality sustainable start ups
  • training, development and support
  • ensure demand-led change
  • commission delivery of publicly funded entitlements 
  • deliver services (as a last resort)
  • multi-agency management as a requirement.

What early education and childcare are families entitled to?

There is a variety of entitlements and support for childcare available, with specific support for working families and disadvantaged families. In March 2023, the Chancellor announced an expansion to the existing early years entitlements. 

  • from April 2024, working parents of 2-year-olds can access 15 hours per week
  • from September 2024, working parents of children aged nine months up to three-years-old can access 15 hours per week
  • from September 2025, working parents of children aged nine months up to three-years-old can access 30 hours per week

Childcare calculators help parents to understand the best choices for them.

Universal provision

All three- to four-year-olds in England can currently get 570 hours of funded early education or childcare per year from the term after their third birthday. This is usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, or traditional school term-time. There are no plans to change this funded entitlement. 

Support for working families

Children of parents (including foster parents) who are working and each earning at least £120 a week, but no more than £100,000 a year, are eligible for an additional 15 hours funded childcare on top of the universal offer for three and four year olds. This is currently available for three and four year old children of working parents. As noted above, this is going to increase to 30 hours of funded childcare per week for all working parents of children aged 9 months to 3-years-old by September 2025. The existing entitlements for three and four years olds of working parents are not going to change. The government has confirmed that, from September 2025, the 30 hours offer will start from the moment statutory maternity or paternity leave ends for working parents when paid up to 39 weeks.

Tax-free childcare supports working parents earning up to £100,000 per year (per parent). For every £8 paid by parents to a registered childcare provider via an online account, the Government will provide a £2 top-up, up to a maximum of £2,000 top-up per year and up to £4,000 per year for children in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. The scheme is available for children up to the age of 11, or up to 17 if they are disabled. Parents can use tax-free childcare alongside the 15 or 30 hour offers, but not at the same time as childcare vouchers, universal credit or tax credits.

Support for disadvantaged families

Two-year-olds of non-working families can get 15 hours of funded early education and childcare if their parents receive certain benefits, including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit. They can also get this if they’re looked after by a local council, have a current statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan, receive Disability Living Allowance or have left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order.

Parents in receipt of Universal Credit can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, up to £950.92 for one child or £1630.15 for two or more children per month. For parents still claiming Working Tax Credit ( for example, where they have not yet moved onto Universal Credit), up to 70 per cent of childcare costs can be claimed back.

Where do children access early education and childcare?

The childcare sector is diverse, operating in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sectors, as well as through maintained provision. Provision for children before they reach statutory school age can include self-employed childminders operating from home, preschool play groups (often run by voluntary management committees), day nurseries (mainly privately run) and school based provision. Childcare which supports school-age children (often known as ‘out of school’ or ‘wraparound’ childcare), could be offered by childminders, voluntary or private groups, and schools.

Children learn through playing, however, all early child education providers follow the standards set by the EYFS which means there is a focus on areas of learning, alongside the benefit of providing childcare. Providers who only offer care before or after school or during the school holidays do not need to meet the learning and development and assessment requirements of the EYFS.

Tax-free childcare, early years entitlements and childcare vouchers can only be used at registered childcare providers, which include:

Maintained sector provision: nursery schools and nursery classes

Maintained sector provision is either schools for children aged two to five (maintained nursery schools) or nurseries attached to primary schools (nursery classes); both are maintained by the council. They generally offer early childhood education and care during school hours. Maintained nursery schools and nursery classes have greater statutory obligations on them than other provision, including the requirement to employ a qualified school teacher, and designating a qualified teacher as a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). Maintained nursery schools also have to have a headteacher, and so are generally more expensive to run than other provision, but these obligations aim to ensure high-quality provision, particularly for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

Private, voluntary and independent nurseries (PVI)

These can be run by private companies, community groups, individuals or employers, and they must be registered with the Ofsted Early Years register. 

Registered childminders

Childminders registered with Ofsted or a childminder agency can choose to offer the 15 and 30 hour entitlements. They often provide more flexible arrangements than nurseries can, including evenings and weekends.

How do parents access entitlements?

  • Applications for the universal 15 hours for three and four-year-olds are through the nursery or childminder, who will submit a claim to the local authority on the parents’ behalf.
  • Applications for 30 hours funded childcare for three and four-year-olds are via childcare choices; parents are then sent a code which should be provided to the nursery as proof of eligibility.
  • Applications for 15 funded hours for disadvantaged two-year olds are via a form from the local authority.
  • Applications for 15 funded hours for working parents of two-year-olds can apply through childcare choices

Information for applications for entitlements for children of working parents from nine months to two years will follow soon. 

How is early education and childcare funded?

Councils are funded for early year’s provision through the early years block in the dedicated schools grant (DSG). This is allocated by the Department for Education (DfE) using the early years national funding formula (EYNFF), which takes into account the number of eligible children in an area, the number eligible for free school meals, and the number for whom English is an additional language. The formula also includes an area cost adjustment multiplier to reflect variations in local costs. This uses the General Labour Market measure to indicate staff costs and nursery rates cost adjustment (NRCA) to indicate cost of premises.

Councils must use a locally-determined, transparent formula – the early years single funding formula (EYSFF) – to allocate the early years block to providers. Providers and the Schools Forum should be consulted on the local formula, and councils must pass through at least 95 per cent of the early years block to providers. The rest can be retained for central costs, such as support for providers. The formula for entitlements for funded entitlements should consist of a universal base rate for all providers, with additional supplements based on local needs or policy objectives.

The formula must include a supplement to account for deprivation, and councils can also include them for issues related to inclusion, rurality or sparsity, flexibility, quality and English as an additional language.

In contrast, funding for the disadvantaged two-year-old offer includes no compulsory supplements. The government rate for the entitlements for the working family two-year-old entitlements is the same as the disadvantaged payment. 

Local authorities received some supplementary funding for maintained nursery settings. There are a series of transitional arrangements that are impacting some local areas differently. Understanding the financial situation of maintained nursery schools in your local area, where they exist, is key.

What provision is available for disadvantaged children or those with special educational needs and disabilities?

Local arrangements 

Councils are expected to offer a range of different supplements to enable providers to support all children and families. This can include deprivation supplements, supplements for English as an Additional Language, inclusion funding and other local arrangements. 

Early years pupil premium

Additional funding is provided to local authorities through the early years pupil premium (EYPP) to support disadvantaged pupils aged three and four, including looked after children and those whose parents receive certain benefits. The EYPP remains distinct from the early years national funding formula and is a separate funding stream within the DSG.

Early years providers are responsible for identifying eligible children. In particular, providers should speak to the parents of children who took up the early education entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds, as most of these children will attract EYPP when they turn three. Councils can check eligibility for the EYPP through a DfE online eligibility checking system.

EYPP will also be applicable to all funded children as part of the extension of entitlements. 

SEN inclusion fund

All councils are required to establish an inclusion fund in their local funding systems for children with SEN taking up childcare entitlements. This should be targeted at children with lower level or emerging SEN, to support providers working with these children. Children with more complex needs and those in receipt of an education, health and care (EHC) plan continue to be eligible to receive funding via the high needs block of the DSG.

In order to establish an SEN inclusion fund, local authorities will combine the amount from either one or both of their early years block and high needs block of the DSG. Local authorities must consult with early years providers to set the value of their local SEN inclusion fund.

Councils must consult with early years providers, parents and SEN specialists on how the SEN inclusion fund will be allocated, as part of the preparation and review of their ‘Local Offer’. The Local Offer lets parents and young people know what special educational needs and disabilities services are available to them in the local area and nationally.

SEN inclusion fund top-up grants are payable to providers and count towards the 95 per cent pass through rate. Specialist SEN services paid for centrally from the SEN inclusion fund, however, do not count towards the pass through rate. SENIF is being extended to younger children with the expanded entitlements. 

Disability access fund

Children aged three and four in free early education are eligible for the disability access fund (DAF) if they receive Child Disability Living Allowance. The one-off payment of £910 per year is for providers to make reasonable adjustments to their setting and/or helping with building capacity. This is funded by central government. 

Families with no recourse to public funds

Families with no recourse to public funds may still be able to get free childcare for their two year old if the household income does not exceed certain amounts, for example £34,500 for families within London with one child or £38,600 for families within London with two or more children. Providers may also be able to access additional support for families such as EYPP.

Wraparound childcare

The Childcare Act 2006 established the requirement for English and Welsh local authorities to ensure their areas have sufficient childcare for children up to the age of 14 whose parents are in work or training for work. This gave local authorities a clear role in the development of extended schools and wraparound childcare.

As part of the Budget announcements in March 2023, the government also committed £289 million over two years from September 2024 to enable local authorities to support the expansion of wraparound childcare for all primary school-aged children from 8am to 6pm. The wraparound expansion is around term-time provision and does not include the school holidays.

Wraparound childcare achieves two purposes: it enables parents to work and can support disadvantaged children to access extracurricular activities to improve their outcomes. Over the last 30 years there have been a series of local and central Government interventions to support these outcomes and improve access to wraparound childcare. 

The Department for Education has published a range of guidance that looks at how local authorities should set up and support schools and local provision to deliver wraparound childcare. Further publications will be issued as the programme continues. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are also considering how national providers, such as the royal Shakespeare company, can come together to support the agenda.

The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned Coram Family and Childcare to write an insight report into wraparound childcare and develop a series of case studies from local authorities

Legislation and practice

Education Act 2002

Section 78 of the Act applies to maintained nursery schools and funded nursery education, and specifies that the curriculum must be a balanced and broadly based curriculum which:

  • promotes the spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society
  • prepares the pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

Childcare Act 2006

This is the key piece of legislation with regard to childcare and early years provision. The Act places a duty on local authorities to improve the wellbeing of young children in their area, and reduce inequalities in relation to issues including physical and mental health and wellbeing, education, and social and economic wellbeing. 

Councils are also expected to make sure that there is sufficient provision of children’s centres to meet the need of local parents, prospective parents and young children, as far as is reasonably practicable. The Act states that children’s centres are places, or groups of places, where early childhood services are provided or advice is given on accessing those services.

The duty to ensure enough childcare, where possible, for working parents is set out by the Act, along with the requirement to provide information, advice and assistance to parents and prospective parents on childcare and other services that may be of benefit to them or their children.

Councils must also secure information, advice and training for childcare providers, for which they can impose ’reasonable’ charges.

Children and Families Act 2014

The Children and Families Act 2014 made provisions around the support available to children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families. This includes joint commissioning arrangements between councils and the NHS, the introduction of education, health and care plans and the publication of a local offer. 

Childcare Act 2016

This Act was the legislative basis for the 30 hours free childcare for three and four-year-old children of working parents.

Early years foundation stage

The early years foundation stage (EYFS) was established under the Childcare Act 2006 and sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to five years old. All schools and Ofsted-registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes. There are separate EYFS statutory frameworks for childminder and for group and school-based providers. 

The areas of learning are:

  • communication and language
  • physical development
  • personal, social and emotional development
  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding the world
  • expressive arts and design.

Children are assessed in the classroom, rather than being tested. Assessment is against early learning goals, which outline the knowledge, skills and understanding children should have at the end of the academic year in which they turn five. 

The EYFS has been updated to reflect the expansion of entitlements. 

Results of the EYFS profile are published by the DfE each year. These outcomes are at both local and national level, and outline the proportion of children achieving the expected level of development and a good level of development, including by pupil characteristics such as SEND, ethnicity and free school meal eligibility. 

Spring Budget 2023

The Spring Budget 2023 set out the intended expansion of early years entitlements. Legislation and changes to statutory guidance are expected soon. 

Key lines of enquiry for all councillors

Council officer teams may look different in terms of responsibility for early years, sometimes it might sit in the education team or wider children’s services or early help. Have you identified the officers responsible for early years childcare and education?

Do we have sufficient early years provision in our area?

Councils should produce regular sufficiency assessments to identify whether enough early years provision is available to meet the needs of children and families in their area. Assessments should consider the demand for places versus the supply, for children of different ages and needs, including SEND. Consider also whether spaces are available at atypical hours – many families may need care outside of standard office hours. Do you know who is responsible for the strategic management and operational delivery of the Early Years and Childcare agenda?

Assessments should also look at whether people are able to access their early years entitlements. How many children are eligible for the disadvantaged two-year-old offer, the entitlements for working parents and the universal three and four-year-old offer? How many providers are offering funded places? Assessments will also need to look forward, considering potential changes in both the local population and the provider market. Are market or funding conditions having an impact on providers? Is there a risk to provision going forward? 

If there is insufficient provision, what work is being undertaken to improve this? For example, is business advice available to help providers set up or expand? Mixed models of provision can be a helpful way to deliver the entitlements, for example using part of the entitlement with a nursery and the other part with a childminder to cover atypical hours. Do providers need support to offer spaces to children with SEND?

Long term financial challenges in the sector, alongside Covid-19 and recent changes to childcare policy are having an impact on provider sustainability. Are you assured that providers are financially sustainable? Are providers making the most of the support available to them from the local authority to ensure sustainable business planning?

Coram Family and Childcare has toolkits available to support local areas in improving sufficiency, including a sufficiency assessment tool and guidance on mixed models of provision.

Is the childcare in our area of a high quality?

There is evidence that while high quality childcare can support children’s development and increase academic skills, low quality childcare produces either no benefit or even negative effects. The quality of provision locally, therefore, is at least as important as the quantity.

This is reflected in funding guidelines, which state that councils should only fund providers rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, or ‘requires improvement’ where there isn’t enough accessible good and outstanding provision to meet demand. Funding should be withdrawn from any provider rated ‘inadequate’ as soon as is reasonably practicable and when spaces have been found elsewhere for children attending that setting. Councils can place requirements on providers rated less than good in order for them to receive funding, to ensure that they improve as per the Ofsted inspection report, for example insisting that staff members attend training.

The vast majority of early years provision is assessed by Ofsted as being ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’; find out whether this is the case in your area, and if there is provision that is less than good, what support is being given to help improve this? Is lower quality provision concentrated in particular areas?

Speak with your local providers to find out about the quality of staff. The presence of well-qualified staff improves the quality of a setting, however there are concerns nationally about the quality of the workforce, with qualification levels on a downward trend. Is this something your providers are experiencing? If so, can you work with local education providers to improve access to, and take up of, courses? Can you support the continuing professional development of early years staff, for example by commissioning training that local providers can purchase? 

Is there a good take up of early education entitlements in your area?

The DfE publishes annual statistics on the take up of early education, entitled ‘Education provision: children under five years of age’. In 2023, 94 per cent of three and four-year-olds accessed the entitlement. Tables are available broken down by local authority, so that you can compare your area to your statistical neighbours.

Find out how parents are informed about the entitlements, including work with partners and marketing campaigns, and how those strategies are evaluated and adapted as necessary. Are you aware of any groups of children or particular areas where take up is lower, and what the reasons for that are?

Are any particular groups of children less likely to be in early education?

Find out whether the children accessing early education in your area reflect the population. For example, are children with SEND, English as an additional language or those from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to attend?

Does your council have a good understanding of the reasons for variations, and how these compare to statistical neighbours? Is there action that can be taken to improve take up where this isn’t as high as you might expect?

What proportion of disadvantaged two-year-olds in your area take up the entitlement, and is this improving?

Fifteen hours of free childcare are offered to disadvantaged two-year-olds, for example those whose parents are on certain benefits, those in care or those with SEND, to improve their school readiness and social mobility. However, take up of this offer is lower than for three and four-year-olds, with a national take up rate of 74 per cent in August 2023.

If take up of the disadvantaged two-year-old offer in your area is low, what are the reasons for this? What work is being undertaken to identify eligible families early and work with them to improve take up? Are partners engaged in this, for example health partners?

An unintended consequence of recent changes to early years funding may be, in some areas, a reduction in places for disadvantaged two-year-olds with the introduction of entitlements for 2-year-olds of working parents. How is this being mitigated in your area? 

Is early years provision impacting on social mobility?

Analysis by the Education Policy Institute shows that by the time young people take their GCSEs at age 16, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are, on average, 18.4 months behind their peers. Forty per cent of this gap emerges before the age of five. Further research shows that pre-school has almost as much impact on educational attainment at age 11 as primary school. It is therefore vital to encourage children from more disadvantaged backgrounds to attend high quality early years provision wherever possible to help narrow the disadvantage gap before children start school.

EYFS results show the proportion of children eligible for free school meals achieving at least the expected standard in the early learning goals, alongside the proportion of all children achieving this, broken down by local authority.

Nationally, 52 per cent of children known to be eligible for free school meals achieve at least the expected standard, compared to 72 per cent of all other children. What is the gap for your area? Is this improving?

Research shows that PVI settings in deprived areas are more likely to be of poor quality than those in more advantaged areas, offering disadvantaged children a poorer quality early education. Is this the case in your area?

Covid-19 continues to have an ongoing impact on children’s early development, particularly their social, emotional and behavioural development and mental health, physical development and school readiness. Some studies have found this is more likely to impact children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

How are children being supported with their speech and language in early years settings?

Is there a clear strategy to improve speech and language for children in early years settings? Children who are behind in language development when they start school are six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English by the age of 11, and 11 times less likely to reach this standard in Maths.

Does your council have a good understanding of the speech, language and communication needs of children in your area? How is this captured, and how is this information used to inform provision by both the council and local health services? 

Are there clear pathways to refer children for speech and language support? And are these effectively communicated to parents, providers and partners? Are sufficient services available to meet local need?

It is also helpful to understand how both providers and parents are supported to help children with their speech and language. Is training arranged for early years practitioners to improve their skills in supporting children to learn? And can parents access information to understand the importance of early language skills and support home learning? 

What support is available for parents and prospective parents to understand the early education and childcare available to them?

Councils are required to provide information, advice and assistance to parents and prospective parents, and this is usually done through their family information service. 

Changes to government childcare policies, for example the recent entitlement expansion, have resulted in significant additional work for council early years teams. How are your teams managing this? How are families accessing the support that they need? 

How do different early years services in your area work together to support families? Do health visitors speak to families about childcare and early education? Can they help to identify families who might benefit from the disadvantaged two-year-old offer, or who might need information on the SEND offer to encourage them to take up their entitlements?

How do parents and children influence service provision?

How do you know whether the provision in your area is meeting the needs of families? What methods are in place to capture this information?

Find out how practitioners in your area listen to the children in their settings. This is important not only to make sure that their interests and perspectives are taken into account, but to support their development and help them to build confidence and critical thinking. Both can be indicators of quality provision.

Parents are a valuable source of feedback on provision, but they may need support to know what ‘good’ looks like in a setting. Is this information available to them? And is it clear how they should raise any concerns?

What support is available for providers, and does the council have a good relationship with them?

Developing and maintaining positive relationships with early years providers will help the council to keep an eye on both sufficiency and quality of provision, and ensure that the support being offered to providers reflects their needs to deliver better outcomes for children.

Is there a clear offer of support in place for providers, and is this developed in consultation with them? Does this cover mandatory training such as first aid, continuous professional development, and business support?

How does the council facilitate networks of providers to support sector-led improvement, professional development and sharing good practice? These are valuable ways to encourage a culture of continuous improvement and to build and maintain skilled, engaged workforce.

Do our looked-after children attend early education provision?

Looked-after children are entitled to 15 hours of early education between the ages of two and four; those in foster care will also be entitled to the expanded offer if their foster parents meet the eligibility criteria.

Do all of your looked-after children access their entitlement, are they in good quality provision and are they getting any additional support they need? As corporate parents, councillors have a responsibility to ensure that looked-after children are getting the best start that they can, and this includes making sure they can take advantage of good early education.

Do you have sufficient wraparound provision available locally?

Is this affordable? Does it respond to parent’s needs? Are children with SEND able to access this provision? Have you considered how to engage with the portfolio holder for culture to bring in broader providers? 

Local Government Association improvement offer

The LGA is funded by the Department of Education to provide a package of support to enable local services to strengthen local systems for early years speech, language and communication pathways with a particular focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged children.

In 2020 Ministers agreed to link the peer review programme with the work that DfE and Public Health England were doing to support early identification and speech, language and communication needs and create the Early Language Local Innovation and Excellence Programme (ELLIE) across local authority integrated SLC pathways.  This includes collaboration with early years educators and health visitor workforce.

Ongoing work includes regular webinars, action learning sets and mini-conferences designed to be responsive to the sector. Dissemination of good practice through sourcing and publishing case studies. Facilitating community of practice events alongside colleagues from health as a space to exchange ideas, resources and practice and to explore areas of challenge.  A funded offer of support through peer challenges designed to help councils improve their offer for disadvantaged children.  A recent e-learning module has been published which examines speech delay and disorders and implications for the child, family and council with tools available to provide support with suggested activities for councillors. 

Key areas of focus are:

  • peer challenge and support
  • strengthening local speech, language and communication systems
  • developing resources and deliver activity to supports political and corporate leaders
  • work with Councils to promote the reach and impact of the home learning environment. 

We also have a series of case studies exploring good practice and a knowledge hub for councils to come together. We also host regular webinars and action learning sets for local authority early years leads to come together to learn from one another. Further information is available on the LGA website.