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Evaluation of the two-year-old pilot

An implementation study for local authorities and providers

two boys playing outside
Published: June 2011


We explored the key considerations that are likely to influence the future implementation of the ‘two year olds offer’, a programme that offers free early education to disadvantaged children in England.


We looked into five areas that could affect the implement of the roll out.

Expanding the provision of sustainable provision of early years education

  • In areas with low demands for childcare and low childcare costs the offer had increased providers’ viability, suggesting that the programme could be expanded with existing funding.
  • In areas with high demand for childcare and high childcare costs different funding arrangements would be required.
  • Giving local authorities more flexibility over funding would help fund the roll-out.
  • Increasing childminders’ limited engagement with the offer could help expand provision.

Models for improving the quality of early education

  • There were already difficulties in some areas with finding sufficient high-quality providers.
  • There were unresolved questions over how quality should be defined and monitored in future.

Reasons why parents might or might not make use of the offer

  • Parents were concerned about flexibility usually centred around weekday opening hours and holiday provision.
  • More flexibility over funding could potentially address those concerns.
  • Finding arrangements that suit everyone is a complex challenge.

Assessing the needs of children and families who take part in the programme

  • Childcare providers’ experience of working with children with complex needs varied considerably.
  • Children’s centres were particularly involved with family support services, suggesting that expanding the offer would require a widespread network of centres.
  • Providers without experience of vulnerable children would require training.


This was a qualitative study drawing upon data collated from case studies and interviews involving staff from local authorities and other key stakeholders, as well as childcare providers. It covered eight local authority areas that were selected to provide a balance in terms of urban and rural, levels of affluence and deprivation, and different types of childcare markets.

Read the report