OXFORDSHIRE is to get £4.7m for free early-years education for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.
From September 2013, the poorest 20 per cent of two-year-olds, estimated to be 1,148 children, will receive 15 hours a week free early- years education.
It is expected to rise to include the poorest 40 per cent by 2014.
Oxfordshire’s allocation from central Government includes £872,000 to go on capital spending, such as converting part of an existing building into extra nursery space. The funding, which comes from a Liberal Democrat promoted policy, is being provided at a flat rate per child per hour, and is being targeted solely at nurseries rated good and outstanding by Ofsted.
This follows research which indicated there were significant developmental benefits to two-year-olds who took up places in good or better nurseries, while those in poorer quality nurseries were no better off than those who stayed at home.
Currently the parents of most two-year-olds in Oxfordshire who want early years education would have to pay for it – which could cost up to £150 a week for 15 hours.
Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, said: “A recent study by Oxford University and NatCen Social Research shows that two-year-olds who attended high-quality childcare made more progress than children from similar backgrounds who remained at home or attended lower quality provision.
“The quality of childcare can make a big difference to the development of young children, especially the most vulnerable.”
Oxfordshire County Council education cabinet member Melinda Tilley welcomed the extra money, but said she was keen for the provision to reflect what parents wanted.
She said: “I think if parents want to do it and it helps them to go to work that is great, but I think sometimes we push the children a little bit too early.”
The Dovecote Centre, in Nightingale Avenue, Blackbird Leys, is set to open a new pre-school, Little Doves, in the new year, to provide places purely for those in receipt of the funding.
Families are being referred by health visitors and children’s centres to ensure those most in need get the places.
There will be spots for 24 two-year-olds and 16 three-year-olds, starting on January 7, and five new jobs have been created.
Children and family services manager Carol Richards said: “The only way these disadvantaged two-year-olds are going to get childcare is from that funding.
“I think it is an excellent idea if parents embrace it.
“It gives us a chance to get working with the children younger, and the parents as well.”
Donnington Doorstep manager Anna Thorne was also keen to see funding going to the best nurseries.
She said: “It’s brilliant so long as the provision is very play-based and focused on the appropriate age of the child.
“It has to be a lovely, caring, nurturing environment where they can play and be two-year-olds, and that the settings work closely with the parents.”
Eligible children will be chosen through means testing the income of their parents or guardians.
‘I'LL BE WORKING SIX DAYS TO PAY FOR CHILDCARE’
Emma Butler, 24, from Blackbird Leys, mum to 21-month-old Isobelle, is among those likely to benefit from the funding.
Miss Butler started a part-time degree in social work at Ruskin College this term with her daughter going to nursery at the Co-operative Childcare, Blackbird Leys, two days a week. But because she is not currently eligible for any support with her childcare fees, Miss Butler has built up in the region of £1,200 in arrears.
She is about to take on a part-time job as a care assistant which she will juggle with coursework commitments and being a single mother.
She said: “I will be literally working six days a week to pay for the two days of childcare. This funding will be brilliant because then I won’t have to pay any childcare costs and I won’t have to worry about it.
“I do think this funding should only be for people who actually need it, those who are working or at uni or college.”
Miss Butler, who had not planned to start a family and was taking precautions, said her experience had put her off having any more children.
She said: “I am never going to have a child again ever. The lack of help and lack of support I got going back into education and the amount of stress was awful.”