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My name is and I am a constituent of .

I am writing to you today because I am concerned about access to childcare and early education. I ask you to represent my views on this issue to the government and support the Sutton Trust’s A Fair Start campaign to equalise access to high-quality early years provision.

The life chances of a child born into a wealthier family in England are drastically different to those of one born into a poorer family, with the poorest children already 11 months behind when starting at school. One of the best ways to close this gap is to level the playing field before school starts, by improving access to high-quality early education. However, access to this provision is not currently equal.

While better off three- and four-year-olds can access 30 hours of government funded early education per week, poorer children, including many in working families, can only access 15 hours. Just 20% of families in the bottom third of earnings are currently eligible. Poorer children are locked out of these vital opportunities simply because their parents don’t earn enough money. We would not accept the state providing longer school hours for better-off families, and we should not accept it in the early years either.

I am concerned about the impact that this policy has on low- and no-income families in our local area, particularly as the pandemic has already led to many children missing out on important opportunities to play, learn and thrive.

To ensure that all children have access to these vital opportunities, I support the Sutton Trust’s calls for the government to extend eligibility to the 30 hours entitlement to all three- and four-year-olds. As my representative, I ask that you write to the Secretary of State for Education to call for an urgent extension to the 30 hour entitlement.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

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A fair start?

Equalising access to early years education.

The first four years of children’s lives play a significant role in determining their chances later in life. It’s a crucial period for social mobility, as this is when the gap in outcomes between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers first takes hold. A proven way to close this gap is through access to high quality early education.

Currently, under government policy all three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours of early education and childcare per week, and since 2017 ‘working-families’ meeting certain eligibility requirements have also been entitled to an additional 15 hours. But children from low income or workless households - the very children who would benefit most from extra provision - are locked out of these additional hours.

We want to change this. We wouldn’t accept the state providing longer hours in school for better-off families, and we shouldn’t accept it in the early years.

We want to see all three- and four-year-olds given access to 30 hours of early years education.

Join our campaign to ensure fair access for all children by writing to your MP today.


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


The proportion of families in the bottom third of the earnings distribution eligible for the current 30 hour entitlement.


Over half of primary senior leaders thought fewer pupils were ‘school ready’ during the pandemic.

Help us to create a fairer system

The Sutton Trust is working with The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust to increase access to high quality early education, and reduce the early years attainment gap before it takes hold.

We have carried out a landmark study to investigate 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. We found that extending this entitlement has the potential to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, and could form a vital part of the recovery effort after the pandemic.

The Sutton Trust's A Fair Start campaign is calling for

Universal provision

Universal provision

Access to early years education in England is not equal, with most of the country’s poorest families locked out of the government’s flagship entitlement to 30 hours of funded provision at age three to four. But these are the very children who stand to benefit most from access to high quality early education. Access for these children is more important than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic, with the poorest families suffering most from the crisis.

Access to the 30-hour entitlement for three-to-four-year-olds should be extended to families on the lowest incomes, to ensure the poorest children can have the best possible start in life. There are a number of policy options on how best to extend the entitlement to these children, from a targeted expansion to those eligible for the two-year-old offer, through to making the entitlement universal. Making the offer universal has several additional potential benefits, including simplifying access for families, providers and local authorities, which could help to improve take up, as well as giving greater levels of financial security to settings, helping them to plan into the long term and potentially improving staff retention and training.

  • There should be universal access to up to 30 hours of funded early education.
  • A targeted expansion of the 30 hours offer to disadvantaged families would be a cheaper alternative, but has downsides in terms of ease of administration, along with fairness to ‘just about managing’ families.

Additional funding for disadvantaged children

Additional funding for disadvantaged children

The funding provided by government for the free entitlement is not enough to meet many provider’s costs, leaving them to make up the extra in other paid for hours or through additional charges.  Many providers struggle to provide high quality provision, and those serving the poorest area are at particular risk of closure and face the harshest financial constraints. It is vital that any expansion of the 30-hour entitlement to children on the lowest incomes is accompanied by a funding uplift.

At a minimum, the government should provide additional funding for disadvantaged children, so that any additional hours provided are of a high quality and serve the poorest communities. Doing so has the added benefit of providing settings with an incentive to recruit children from families on low incomes, as well as ensuring settings serving the poorest areas, many of which have been badly hit by the pandemic, remain sustainable into the long term.

  • The government should provide additional funding for disadvantaged children, either through the Early Years Pupil Premium or a ‘disadvantage supplement’ for those eligible for the two-year-old offer..
  • The Early Years Pupil Premium should be reformed to make its administration easier and improve its impact, by increasing the rate, and broadening the eligibility period over a greater amount of time to capture families dipping in and out of poverty, as with the Pupil Premium in schools.

A focus on quality

A focus on quality

It is important that any expansion to the 30-hour entitlement, and the additional funding going to providers along with it, drives up quality in early education, which is most likely to improve children’s outcomes and school readiness. In order to offer the extended and better-funded 30-hour entitlement, providers should be required to meet certain quality criteria based in evidence.

As well as putting requirements on settings, other actions should also be taken by government to ensure quality of provision in the early years sector. Increased funding is needed to improve pay and conditions for staff, so that settings can attract and retain a well-qualified workforce. Barriers to accessing qualifications at Levels 1 to 3 should also be addressed, to encourage new recruits into the sector. A clear vision for the early years’ workforce, which is designed to deliver high quality provision for children, is the only way to ensure early education can play its full part in closing the attainment gap.

  • A universal uplift to funding, such as the one introduced when the 30 hours policy was first rolled out, would have broader benefits to providers, and help to steady the sector in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • To offer the extended and better-funded 30-hour entitlement, providers should be required to meet certain evidence-based quality criteria, for example employing a graduate leader in their setting, employing a certain proportion of Level 3 qualified staff, and providing professional development opportunities to their workforce.
  • The reinstatement of a ‘Leadership Quality Fund’ would help settings to attract qualified staff with enhanced pay and status, with the long-term aspiration of having a qualified teacher in every setting.

We would not accept the state providing longer school hours for wealthier families, and nor should we accept it in the early years. If we want to transform our school system to make it fairer, it needs to begin with giving every child the foundation to succeed at school in the first place.

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 is contributing 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.