Take-up of funded childcare is lowest among disadvantaged families in the most deprived areas of England, according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report examines whether the Department for Education (DfE) is supporting disadvantaged families effectively through free early education and childcare entitlements.

The analysis found that just over two-thirds (68%) of disadvantaged families are taking up their entitlement of 15 hours funded childcare a week for two-year-olds. This falls below the Government's own target of 73-77% take-up.

The report also found significant regional variations, with the most deprived areas of England recording the lowest rate of take-up.

Lack of awareness of the childcare entitlements was found to be a key barrier for disadvantaged families and the NAO is calling on the Government to work closely with councils to increase take-up in deprived areas. The report reveals that disadvantaged families are also impacted by providers needing to charge families for meals and extra hours alongside the funded offer.

The NAO highlights that the low take-up in deprived areas risks increasing the gap between the development of disadvantaged children and their peers rather than narrowing it, with a detrimental impact on DfE’s ambitions to improve social mobility.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said:

“Families with young children across the country are benefiting from their entitlement to free early education and childcare places, which aim to prepare children for school and improve their life chances.”

“However, if these entitlements are to help level the playing field, it is essential that more disadvantaged children benefit from high-quality childcare. DfE should do more to ensure that all disadvantaged families are aware of the free childcare on offer and are able to access it.”

The full report is available here.

Last reviewed 26 March 2020