Headlines: February 9th, 2012

Daycare for three and four year olds is a lottery based on income and postcode. Take-up varies and at he bottom end is just 62 per cent. The National Audit Office wants this remedied.

The NAO found that the take-up rate for three and four-year-olds in early education has been sustained at 95 per cent since 2008, despite an eight per cent increase in eligible children. There are however, wide variations in take-up between local authorities. Take-up for children from the most disadvantaged families is lower than overall take-up.

The quality of nurseries, schools and other providers offering the free entitlement has been sustained overall since 2008-09, but access to high quality provision varies depending on where children live. According to NAO analysis of Ofsted data, the percentage of good or outstanding provision across local authorities in March 2011 ranged from 64 per cent to 97 per cent. Areas of highest deprivation are less likely to have high quality provision.

Children from disadvantaged families are much less likely to take up free nursery places, and also less likely to attend high quality nurseries that boost their achievement. While the best local authorities achieve almost 100 per cent take up of provision, in one local authority the take up rate was only 62 per cent.

Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said: “This should not come as a surprise to the Government, as Daycare Trust’s recent survey of Family Information Services revealed that nine in ten local authorities have cut their budget for family information, making it harder for parents to get the support they need to take up their entitlements. This is of particular concern for parents on low incomes who are less likely to use word of mouth to find out about local childcare services.”

She added: “We will only end this shocking postcode and income lottery by providing better information and outreach services.”