Overview of the data collection
The data sources for this publication are the early years census, the school census and the school level annual school census. All schools, and all private, voluntary, and independent (PVI) providers (including childminders) receiving government funding, are required to make a return. PVI providers make a return via the early years census, schools via the school census and general hospital schools via the school level annual school census. These are statutory collections, which helps ensure complete and accurate information is returned.
Entitlement to funded early education places
All four-year-olds have been entitled to a funded early education place since 1998 and in 2004 this was extended to all three-year-olds. Since September 2010, all three and four-year-olds have been entitled to 570 hours a year of funded early education over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year (which equates to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year). This is known as the universal entitlement and is referred to as the “funded early education entitlement”.
From September 2013, the entitlement to 15 hours of funded early education per week for 38 weeks of the year was extended to two-year-olds from families in receipt of specified benefits and two-year-olds who were looked after by the local authority. The entitlement for two-year-olds was further extended in September 2014 to children in low income families, children with a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), children in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and children who are no longer looked after by a local authority as a result of an adoption order, a special guardianship order or a child arrangements order which specifies with whom the child is to live. The time series in the publication starts from January 2015 as from September 2014 onwards the eligibility criteria included children with a statement of SEN or an EHCP and is therefore consistent.
In April 2018 the eligibility criteria for two-year-olds to receive a funded early education place were changed to reflect the introduction of Universal Credit. In September 2019 eligibility for the entitlement was extended to:
- two-year children of Zambrano carers;
- two-year-olds in families granted immigration leave on the basis of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and subject to a condition that they have no recourse to public funds; and
- two-year-olds of families supported under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
In September 2020 the entitlement was further extended to two-year-olds of families supported under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who also have no recourse to public funds.
The detailed eligibility criteria for the funded early education entitlement for two-year-olds are set out in regulations - The Local Authority (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Regulations 2014 and The Local Authority (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Amendment Regulations 2018.
In September 2017 the government doubled the entitlement to funded early education for three-and four-year-olds in working families who meet the eligibility criteria to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. In September 2018 the entitlement to 30 hours free childcare was extended to three and four-year-old foster children provided that take-up of 30 hours is consistent with the child’s care plan.
The additional 15 hours for eligible children is referred to as the “extended funded early education” entitlement. This is reported separately to the universal first 15 hours due to the way the data is collected, eligibility is checked, and the common use of separate providers for the two entitlement components of the 30 hours place.
Eligibility for 30 hours is checked by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Parents must apply for 30 hours through the digital Childcare Service, or in some circumstances, through the childcare service Customer Interaction Centre. Eligibility for 30 hours for foster children is checked by the local authority who has responsibility for the foster child.
30 hours are available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at the national minimum wage or living wage and less than £100,000 per year. This also includes self-employed parents. Foster parents must engage in paid work outside their role as a foster parent. There is no minimum income requirement for foster parents but they cannot exceed the maximum income threshold.
In 2020 the government introduced a temporary easement to the maximum income threshold as part of the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The change aimed to ensure that critical workers who exceeded the maximum income threshold set out in the 2016 Regulations due to increased income mainly attributable to earnings from work undertaken directly or indirectly as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can continue to take up 30 hours free childcare. The change was only effective for the tax year starting with 6 April 2020 and ending with 5 April 2021. This change was set out in The Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.
In May 2020 the government announced an easement to the minimum income threshold so that those parents who would normally be eligible for 30 hours free childcare who had lost income due to COVID-19 (e.g. due to being furloughed), would continue to be eligible for 30 hours free childcare. In October 2020, the government agreed to allow parents who are enrolled on a government coronavirus support scheme to continue to access 30 hours. This change is set out in The Tax Credits, Childcare Payments and Childcare (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020 No. 1515.
Parents who successfully apply for 30 hours are given an ‘eligibility code’ for their child. They are prompted to take this code (along with their National Insurance number and child’s date of birth) to their childcare provider to claim their 30 hours place.
The detailed eligibility criteria for 30 hours are set out in regulations:
- The Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) Regulations 2016
- The Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) Amendment Regulations 2017
- The Childcare (Disqualification) and Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Data sources on the extended early entitlement
Since the introduction of the extended early education entitlement policy up until summer 2019, the Department for Education published regular management information to monitor the policy, consisting of monthly management information on the number of eligibility codes issued and validated, and termly headcounts of the number of children in a 30-hour place. Both of these are no longer published and were last updated in 2019.
This statistics publication gives a definitive picture of the number of children in a 30 hours place in January 2021, along with breakdowns by provider type, Ofsted rating of provider, special educational needs provision and staff qualifications.
More information about funded early education places is included in the statutory guidance for local authorities.