Reporting year 2021

Education provision: children under 5 years of age

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See all updates (3) for Reporting year 2021
  1. Data files covering SEN and ethnicity have been reformatted.

  2. The following two data files have been updated to correct an error in the national level three- and four-year-old population estimates and take-up rates: "Percentage Take-Up and Number of Children Registered by Age and Provider Type" and "National Percentage Take-Up By Age (2011 to 2021)". The percentage of three- and four-year-olds registered for universal hours is now 90% instead of the 88% previously reported.

  3. Data file has been added at Local Authority District level.

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This data reports on the provision of funded early education for children under 5 in England during the week commencing 18 January 2021.

All children aged three- and four-years-old, and eligible disadvantaged two-year-olds, are entitled to 15 hours per week of funded early education for 38 weeks of the year. Working parents of three- and four-year-olds are eligible for an additional 15 weekly hours of extended funded early education for 38 weeks of the year. Full criteria for eligibility are outlined in the Background section of the Methodology. 

Data is collected from local authorities covering schools, maintained nurseries and private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers including childminders as part of the spring school census and the early years census.  


Coronavirus (COVID-19) impact

Early years provision was expected to remain open during the national lockdown in January 2021. Open providers were asked to return data on the expected attendance of their registered children. This includes children who were temporarily absent due to the impacts of COVID-19 on parental confidence, health and self-isolation. Providers who were closed due to government advice (for example, staff members self-isolating) were also asked to return the expected attendance of their registered children. 

The Department's early years settings survey of local authorities has been publishing estimates of early years attendance for children under five-year-olds using providers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. This statistical release differs from the linked survey, as this release is based on child-level census data relating to the week commencing 18 January 2021 and covers only the funded early education entitlements for two, three and four-year-olds.

For regional and local authority data, please see the Create Tables option at the bottom of the page. This tool also offers pupil characteristics (special educational needs, ethnicity, pupil premium, basis for two-year-old funding) and provider characteristics data (type of provider, staff qualifications, Ofsted ratings) beyond what is covered in the main statistical release. 

Headline facts and figures - 2021

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Funded Early Education

This section reports on the number of children registered to receive funded early education over the 38 term-time weeks of the year. 

All three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours per week (570 hours per year). Two-year-olds are also eligible if their parents are in receipt of certain benefits, they are looked after or have left care, or they have an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. Further detail is available in the Background section of the methodology.

Eligible two-year-olds

The number of two-year-olds using the funded early education entitlements has fallen by around 20% since 2018. 

This is partially due to a 7% fall in the estimated number of eligible two-year-olds since 2018. The remainder of the decrease is likely due to a fall in take-up amongst eligible families in 2021. Parents may have delayed registering their two-year-old with a provider during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Three- and four-year-olds

The percentage of children registered to receive funded entitlements is the lowest since it was first measured in 2008. As ONS population estimates have remained stable since 2018, numbers registered and take-up rates follow the same trends (see Figure 1 and Table 1).  

The number of three-year-olds registered has fallen 7% in 2021, whilst the number of four-year-olds registered has fallen by 2%. This difference is likely to be due to the greater stability in 'expected attendance' during census week for older children and as in the case for two-year-olds, parents may have delayed registering their three-year-old with a provider during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This census data utilises “expected attendance” from funded entitlements (see methodology). 

The “Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” survey estimates trends in under 5's physical attendance from June 2020. 

Extended Funded Early Education

Families where all parents are working at least 16 hours a week at national minimum wage or living wage, but earn under £100,000 per year, are entitled to an extra 15 hours of childcare per week on top of the universal entitlement for three and four-year-olds. Over the 38 term-time weeks, this amounts to 570 additional hours per year of early education per eligible child. Full eligibility is explained in the Background section of the methodology.  

The number of eligible children changes each year through cohort size and parental employment. An estimated 460,000 children may have been eligible, although this estimate does not account for COVID-19. 

328,700 children took up some extended hours this year, or almost three in every four eligible children. 

Prior to 2021, more children had registered to receive the 30-hours childcare offer each year since its introduction. This year saw the first decrease with a similar number registered to receive at least some of the extended entitlement offer as in 2019. 

More three-year-olds are registered to receive the extended funded early education entitlement as most four-year-olds are already separately registered in reception classes in primary schools (see Figure 2). 

Number of Children by Provider Type

Since 2019, DfE has worked with local authorities to improve data quality relating to provider type. Caution should therefore be taken when comparing changes before and after this data cleaning exercise. Further information can be found in the Data Quality section of the methodology.

When a child splits their entitlement across more than one provider, the provider where they spend the majority of their time is counted. 

Eligible two-year-olds

Most eligible two-year-olds continue to access their entitlements in private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings (including childminders). 

The proportion accessing their entitlements in maintained schools (nursery, primary, secondary or special schools) has gradually increased from 3% in 2014 to 14% in 2021. This is likely to be due to two factors: the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act (2015), which made it easier for schools to extend their provision to two-year-olds; and clearer guidance for local authorities on whether children should be returned on the early years (PVI) or school census. 

Three and four-year olds funded early education

Two thirds of three-year-olds accessed their funded early education in PVI settings (including childminders) in 2021. This has increased over the past four years, mainly due to an increase in children attending childminders.  

Two thirds of four-year-olds are registered in infant classes in primary schools (i.e. reception classes). An additional 15% were registered at other maintained school settings. This has not changed from 2020. 

Three- and four-year-olds extended early education

Approximately four in every five children using extended entitlements access these hours in PVI settings (including childminders). 

The proportion provided at maintained schools has increased very slightly since its introduction in 2018 from 18% to 21%. 

The evaluation of the national rollout of 30-hours free childcare (opens in a new tab) suggested in 2018 that schools offered the first 15 funded hours, whilst PVIs tended to provide the extended hours as wraparound care. The small changes since 2018 suggest that schools are continuing to extend their provision to include the extended entitlement hours. 

Child Characteristics

The funded (first 15 hours) compared to the extended (additional 15 hours for working parents) early education entitlement

Special educational needs (SEN) are more than twice as common amongst recipients of the funded early education entitlement.

Children whose ethnicity is recorded as ‘White’ make up a higher proportion of extended early education recipients than the first 15 hours funded early education. 

Changes from 2020 to 2021

The number of three and four-year-old children in receipt of Early Years Pupil Premium has risen by 6%.

The proportion of children with SEN has remained broadly the same across all entitlement types. Three and four-year-olds registered to receive funded early education are more likely to have SEN than those registered to receive extended early education (6.3% compared with 2.8%). 

The number of two-year-old children of Asian ethnicity registered has fallen by a third. The proportion of three and four-year-old children from each ethnicity has remained stable for both funded early education and extended early education entitlements. 

Users may explore the data further using the Create Tables tool at the bottom of the page. 

Number of Providers and Ofsted Ratings

Following the trend of previous years, the overall number of providers delivering funded education to two-year-olds has fallen slightly despite an increase in the number of maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools.

There are a similar number (less than 200 decrease) of providers of the universal entitlement for three- and four-year-olds. There is a larger decrease of around 1,000 providers of the extended entitlement.

The number of childminders delivering the universal entitlement increased to over 11,000, whilst the number delivering the extended entitlement fell to 11,500. The narrowing of differences between the first 15 hours and the additional 15 hours is likely to be due to the Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (opens in a new tab) guidance which stated children should not attend multiple early years settings to minimise the spread of infection.

The average number of funded children at each provider has decreased for all age groups, particularly in 2021. This is partly due to the overall increase in childminders, who typically provide for a small number of children. 

Over 90% of children registered for all entitlements attend settings which are rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. 

Early Years Staff Qualifications

Staff qualifications data relates to private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers only. The Create tables tool allows further breakdowns of qualifications and staff numbers since 2018.  

The proportion of staff delivering funded entitlements with a graduate level qualification remained at 9% since 2018, this is similar to the proportion of staff providing extended funded early education. 

This proportion is lower amongst childminders or private and voluntary settings, compared with independent schools and state-funded governor run settings. 

36% of PVIs (including childminders), delivering 51% of children's funded entitlements, contain at least one graduate member of staff.

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