Thousands of families in Leeds are set to get a cash boost after the Government promised free childcare for two-year-olds.
Currently the cut off age is three for 15 hours of free care per week, and yesterday Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, announced that will be extended to two for certain families from September 2014.
The Government estimates the move – costing £760 million – will benefit more than 300,000 families nationally, and 5,000 in Leeds.
Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said: “This is great news for parents and toddlers in our area. Early years education, through play and stories, helps young children prepare for school.
“It’s also a huge help to parents who may be struggling to juggle work commitments and having young children.”
The Government has launched a consultation calling for views on which two-year-olds should benefit.
Two-year-olds from families who meet the criteria for free school meals will continue to be eligible. In addition, it is proposed that two-year-old children should get free early education if they are in low income families earning no more than £16,190 each year, have special educational needs or a disability, or have been in care and been adopted.
Ms Teather said: “There is compelling evidence that early education, through play and stories, helps young children prepare for school in their crucial early years.
“We have an ambitious programme to roll out free early education and it is vital that this support, backed by funding rising to £760 million, is targeted towards those who need it.
“Babies born this year will receive the benefit of high quality early education in two years’ time.”
From September 2013 the least advantaged 20 per cent of two-year-olds will receive free early education.
The Government is trialling the delivery of this first phase in ten areas in England, benefiting around 150,000 children. From September 2014 this will rise to nearly 300,000.
Currently, 95 per cent of three and four-year-olds access 15 hours of free early education every week – more than 800,000 children nationally.
Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, said: “All children should have a fair chance to get on in life, which is why we’re extending free childcare to forty per cent of two-year-olds. The consultation is about making sure we get that right.”