Somerset County Council’s work in helping children access free early learning has been praised by the Department for Education.
All families with two-year-olds who meet nationally-identified eligibility criteria can apply for funded early learning places, and it is up to local authorities to make sure sufficient places are available and to make sure eligible parents are aware of their entitlement.
A letter sent to the County Council by Sam Gyimah, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, says Somerset has one of the highest levels of children in places across the country with 74.6 per cent of two-year-olds currently accessing a place.
Mr Gyimah’s letter reads: “I would like to congratulate you on this commendable achievement. We know that all new policy initiatives pose specific delivery challenges and I would like to thank your team for the hard work they have undertaken to ensure a high proportion of two-year-olds benefit from their entitlement.”
In May 2014, around 44.3 per cent of eligible children in Somerset were taking up a place. The current take-up is 74.6 per cent, which also means Somerset is one of the most improved local authorities in the country.
Cllr Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families, paid tribute to the Early Years service, partners in health, job centres and getset services, and all the childcare providers who have worked so hard to promote the offer and support parents in taking up a place.
She said: “We are very proud of our and our partners’ achievements in this area and very proud that our work for children has been recognised at such a high level.
“Our success in reaching out to so many families is partly due to the streamlined application process, and partly because we have several different teams working together in partnership to great effect.
“Our thanks also must go to all the wonderful childcare providers in Somerset who do so much to make sure there are enough places for every eligible child.
“We know how important early learning is and our goal must be to keep up the good work and try to reach even more families.”
The letter also encourages the County Council to share its good practice with other local authorities.