30 May 2012

Up to 140 Wellingborough families could benefit from a trial to test the national expansion of free nursery funding for two year olds.

Northamptonshire County Council is one of only ten pilot areas chosen to trial free early education for disadvantaged two year olds and support the expansion of the childcare sector to ensure there is enough capacity.

Councillor Andrew Grant, cabinet member for children, learning and skills, said: “There are around 1,000 two year olds living in the Wellingborough area and we estimate the trial will create 80 places.

“The government will give us up to £220,000 to deliver the trial and that money will be used to fund places for all eligible two year olds; pilot an online eligibility checker for families to easily check if they qualify for free funding; and support the council’s work in increasing capacity in the childcare sector in Wellingborough by 80 places.

“Giving children from more deprived backgrounds access to early education is fundamental to their ongoing health and wellbeing in later life.”

One of the aims of the trial is to stimulate business growth within the early years sector. It is designed to be a cost effective model, giving childcare providers the reassurance to invest in further expansion in order to increase sufficiency and respond to an increased demand resulting from the free entitlement for 2 year olds.

It is anticipated the trial will deliver places to all eligible two year olds In Wellingborough from October 2012 onwards.

The eligibility criteria for families will be the same as those proposed for the forthcoming legal entitlement, which adopts the criteria currently used in schools to identify the families who can claim Free School Meals. This is based on a family's low income or because the parents are in receipt of certain state benefits.

The online eligibility checker will link into the Department of Work and Pensions database to create a new accessible channel for families to get confirmation of their entitlement.

The successful pilot areas were selected on the basis of enabling local authorities to test how best to deliver the new entitlement of up to 15 hours a week to all eligible children in a particular geographical area, overcoming the range of challenges around supply and quality, and to test and increase the level of parental demand for places.

Wellingborough was chosen on the basis that it combines both urban and rural communities with a spread of needs including pockets of deprivation, making it a reliable sample for monitoring impacts. In addition, a good mix of different early years providers from all sectors operate across the Wellingborough area.

The government hopes that the lessons learned from the trials will help all local authorities and providers to stimulate growth in the local market and increase capacity.