11 months

The gap between the lowest income children and their richer classmates by the time they start school.


Parents who are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their child’s development or wellbeing.


A third of settings in deprived areas report that they may have to close due to pandemic-related financial difficulties.

Help us to create a fairer system

The Sutton Trust is working with The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust to look in depth at the ’30 hours’ policy and assess the possible options for reform, prioritising promotion of the importance of high quality early education and reducing the early years attainment gap before it takes hold.

We’ll be investigating the feasibility and potential impact of extending eligibility for the ‘30 hours’ funded early education entitlement for children aged three and four, to increase access to more disadvantaged children. Extending this entitlement may have the potential to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, which would form a vital part of the recovery effort after the pandemic. We will be assessing several options for increasing eligibility to the 30-hour offer.

Views from the sector and other key stakeholders will help us to shape this work and find the best solutions for tackling inequality in the early years. Crucially, we want to make sure that any policy change doesn’t reduce quality of provision so gauging the sector’s view on the feasibility of any changes is key.

How could we change the 30 hours policy?

Universal provision

Universal provision

Making 30 hours of early years provision universal for all 3 and 4 year olds, so that children from all backgrounds can benefit.

Re-targetting the entitlement

Re-targetting the entitlement

Extending the 30 hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds at the lower end of the income spectrum, including those currently eligible for 15 hours at age 2, while reducing the existing upper income limit. Doing so would re-target existing provision towards poorer children.

Extending the entitlement

Extending the entitlement

Extend eligibility for the 30 hours entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds who currently qualify for the disadvantaged 2 year old entitlement of 15 hours, but leaving all other eligibility as it is currently. This would extend provision to the poorest children.

Universal increase in funding rates

Universal increase in funding rates

Alongside any other changes to entitlement, increasing the hourly rate for all children taking up the government offer, to ensure all providers have the funding needed to offer high quality provision.

Increase in funding rate for disadvantaged children

Increase in funding rate for disadvantaged children

Alongside any other changes to entitlement, targeting an increase in the hourly rate for disadvantaged children (either based on early years pupil premium eligibility, or on those who qualify for the 15 hour 2 year old entitlement), so funding for high quality provision is targeted at children who need it most.

At a time when education recovery is the watchword at school level, it is more important than ever that there is greater access to early education for younger children who have also suffered from disruption to their development.

Sir Peter Lampl | Founder and Executive Chair of the Sutton Trust

How does the '30 hours' policy work?

What is the current policy?

Currently, two-year-olds from the 40% lowest income families are entitled to 15 hours of free early education per week. For three and four-year-olds, there is a universal entitlement for 15 hours (usually across 38 weeks). Since September 2017, the government introduced an entitlement for a further weekly 15 hours (the 30 hour offer) for three- and four-year-olds, which children can usually access if parents are in work for a minimum number of hours (or an equivalent of 16 hours per week at the minimum wage up to £100,000 annual income per parent).

Whilst state-funded provision for two-year-olds is focused on disadvantaged children, the emphasis flips with the 30 hour offer to more socio-economically advantaged working households at three and four. As a result children from low income homes where at least one parent is unemployed have comparatively less entitlement at three and four, even though they stand to benefit from such provision.

What is the impact of the current policy?

On the sector:

The current hourly Government funding rate provided for both the two year old and three and four year old entitlements is insufficient to cover costs of high-quality early education. This means that many providers have suffered financially in recent years, even before the financial impacts of the pandemic. Providers have been forced to subsidise places through their own reserves, by charitable fundraising activities or by charging ‘add on’ costs for lunch and other services in order to compensate. This has had the greatest impact on providers in deprived areas, and the ‘add on’ costs sometimes have a negative impact on affordability for less well-off families.

On children:

There’s evidence that this policy of linking the 30 hour entitlement for three and four year olds to parental employment may have led to a widening of the gap in outcomes in the early years as those three and four year olds ineligible for the full 30 hour entitlement are potentially missing out on 15 additional hours of quality early education.

Additionally, there is some evidence that provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds has been negatively impacted by providers prioritising the 30-hour entitlement.

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