Almost 250,000 children 'locked out' of nursery education, shows study

Poor lose out on childcare as new study shows almost a quarter of a million worse-off children are ‘locked out’ of nursery education because of parents’ low earnings

  • Charity says 240,000 ineligible each year for 30 hours of free childcare a week
  • Parents have to work equivalent of 16 hours a week on minimum wage to qualify
  • If they earn less, children are only entitled to 15 hours per week of free childcare
  • Report said it is ‘widening inequality’ between disadvantaged children and peers

Almost a quarter of a million poor children are ‘locked out’ of nursery education because their parents do not earn enough, a study warns.

The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, says that each year 240,000 children aged three and four are ineligible for the Government’s 30 hours of free childcare a week.

Parents have to work the equivalent of 16 hours a week on minimum wage to qualify. If they earn less, their children are only entitled to 15 hours per week of free childcare.

Previous research has suggested nursery education can be more beneficial, on average, than children staying at home full-time.

This is down to the social interaction opportunities and early-years curriculum which all nurseries have to teach.

Almost a quarter of a million poor children are ‘locked out’ of nursery education because their parents do not earn enough, a study warns (file photo)

The Sutton Trust said it was unfair to deny the very poorest children the same level of education as their better-off peers.

Chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: ‘We know how important high-quality early education is for young children, yet the poorest three and four-year-olds are locked out of these opportunities, simply because their parents do not earn enough.

‘This is a national scandal.

‘We wouldn’t accept the state providing longer school hours for well-off families, and we shouldn’t accept it in the early years.’

The report said the policy is ‘widening inequality’ between disadvantaged children and their peers.

It said the disparity is contributing to the gap in skills between rich and poor children when they arrive at school aged four.

Previous research has suggested nursery education can be more beneficial, on average, than children staying at home full-time (file photo of children and a teacher at a nursery in London)

Two-year-olds from disadvantaged families can receive 15 hours of childcare per week, with all three and four-year-olds also eligible.

But since 2017, the parents of three and four-year-olds who earn at least the equivalent of 16 hours on the national minimum wage per week on average are entitled to a further 15 hours.

Of those eligible for the full 30 hours, 70 per cent are in the top half of earners, and 13 per cent are in the bottom third of the income distribution, the report found.

The report, A Fair Start?, is calling for the full 30-hour entitlement to be extended.

Previous research from the Education Policy Institute found that the poorest children are at least nine months behind their peers when they start at primary school.

The report said the policy is ‘widening inequality’ between disadvantaged children and their peers (file photo of a Reception classroom at Manor Park School and Nursery in Cheshire)

Making the full 30 hours available to all three and four-year-olds would cost around £250 million a year, according to modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

However, nurseries said yesterday they would only be in favour of extending the scheme if the government provided enough money.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: ‘The harsh reality is that for many, any extension of the scheme at current rates of funding is simply unfeasible.

‘If the Government is genuinely committed to improving the life chances of all children, then clearly it needs to invest in the sector that is proven to have the biggest impact on long-term learning and development: the early years.’

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