Early years: National policy and guidance

Making a big difference in the early years foundation stage – A handbook for local authorities PDF (374 KB)

Published by DCSF, this handbook is primarily aimed at local authorities (LA). In addition to the supporting materials, this book provide a summary of the Making a Big Difference (MABD) Programme, and describes how the MABD strands work. It explains the importance of audit and self-evaluation for MABD.


The Children's plan (2007) PDF (637 KB)

This document, published in 2007, outlines the Government’s ambitions for improving children and young people’s lives up to 2020. The Children’s Plan sets out a strategy for achieving success over the next ten years under each of the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ strategic objectives. Some of the commitments regarding Early Years go as follows:

  • Investing £100 million over three years to extend the offer of up to 15 hours of free early education and childcare to 20,000 2-year-olds in the most disadvantaged communities.
  • Ensuring there is a smoother transition from play-based learning in the early years into primary school, particularly to help summer-born children who can be at a disadvantage when they enter primary school.
  • Investing £117 million over the next three years in the early years workforce, including measures to fund supply cover so early years workers can take part in continuing professional development


The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 received royal assent on 12 November 2009 PDF (0.99 MB)

The Act gives Sure Start Children’s Centres a specific statutory basis, and places new duties on LAs to establish and maintain sufficient numbers to meet local needs. This reflects current good practice, rather than creating any new requirements on local authorities or other service providers.  It also provides for inspection by OFSTED.

Changes will be made so that private, voluntary and independent (PVI) Early Years providers as well as maintained providers will be funded from the individual schools budget and be subject to the school funding regulations.  It is also important to note that the Act strengthens Children’s Trusts by putting Children’s trust boards on a statutory footing. The Act will extend the existing duty to cooperate to promote children’s well-being to include all maintained schools, academies, SFCs, FE colleges and Jobcentre Plus. It is anticipated that there will be representation by Sure Start Children’s Centres on the trust board. 

Note: statutory guidance for Children’s trust boards and Sure Start Children’s Centres will be issued early in 2010.


Raising standards - Improving outcomes guidance PDF (808 KB)

This guidance supports local authorities and their partners in fulfilling their duties under sections 1–4 of the Childcare Act 2006.
It is clear about the requirements for a strategic partnership and about the requirement for collecting, pooling and analysing data and research to inform planning, commissioning and delivery of services and aid better decision-making within the joint commissioning framework.  In addition it requires this partnership to listen to the voices of young children and take account of their views when planning and commissioning services. 


Childcare sufficiency assessments guidance PDF (503 KB)

The guidance Section 11 of the Childcare Act requires local authorities to carry out an assessment of the sufficiency of childcare within their area as a first step to securing sufficient childcare. This process will give local authorities the evidence and information they need to facilitate and shape a childcare market that contains childcare which is sufficient, flexible, sustainable and responsive to parent’s needs.  This guidance should be read in the context of the Joint Commissioning Framework and Guidance on the Children and Young People’s Plan, which all local authorities are already using in relation to the provision of children’s services. 


Nursery education for 3- and 4-year-olds PDF (357 KB)

This Code of Practice on the Provision of Free Nursery Education Places constitutes statutory guidance on the delivery of the free early learning and development entitlement for three- and four-year-olds. It is already clear from the high take-up that it is valued by parents.  Local authorities must have regard to comprehensive statutory guidance set out in the code of practice (from September 2010 there will be a new code of practice) when making arrangements for the provision of free early education places.  Securing the required amount of free early years provision needs to take place with the local authorities commissioning framework.


Early years single funding formula PDF (1.30 MB)

This practice guidance sets out the Government’s expectations for the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF) and provides guidance on how the formulae should be designed and implemented.  The Government announced in June 2007 that local authorities (local authorities) will be required to design and implement a single local funding formula for funding the Free Entitlement to early years provision for 3 and 4 year olds across all sectors. The aim is to improve fairness and transparency in the way that funding is allocated to, and services commissioned from, providers who deliver the Free Entitlement. Dowload the PDF here


Duty to provide information, advice and assistance: Guidance for local authorities - childcare act 2006 PDF (1.43 MB)

Local authorities are required to provide family information services as guided under the Childcare Act 2006 (Section 12) which extends the existing duty to provide information to parents, to ensure parents and prospective parents can access the full range of information they may need for their children. Through the 'Parent Know How' scheme launched by the DCSF, support and information is provided to all.  It enables support for all those in parenting roles through: telephone helplines digital services, syndicated print, video and audio content as well as a Parent Know How Directory – a comprehensive online directory.


Extended Schools: building on experience (2008) PDF (575 MB)

This document discussed what extended schools are to provide and how. Extended schools are expected to provide a variety of services: wraparound childcare, access, or 'fast track' referral pathways to specialised health and social services, after-school clubs and study support, adult education and family learning sessions, parenting programmes and other family support, and other facilities.  Working with the local authority governing bodies are to be fully involved at all stages of the commissioning process and endorse schools’ extended service strategies in order to ensure that all members of the local community can access and benefit from extended schools services.


Extended flexible entitlement Zip (193 KB)

A new Code of Practice incorporating the extended flexible entitlement will be produced for consultation Autumn 2009.  It is based on the pathfinder projects introduced as part of the Government’s commitment to increase the length and flexibility of the free early years entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds from 12.5 to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks by 2010. 
The requirement for local authorities to work with their partners to improve the outcomes of all children and reduce inequalities underpins the free entitlement and should be at the forefront of the drive toward high quality and excellence.


Sure start children's centres: Guidance and resources Zip (5.72 MB)

This guidance discussed issues withing the Sections 1-5 of the Childcare Act 2006 that require local authorities and their NHS and Jobcentre Plus partners to work together to improve the outcomes of all children up to 5 and reduce inequalities between them. The guide looks at early childhood services that are to be integrated to maximise access and benefits to families - underpinning a Sure Start children’s centre for every community. There is a range of guidance documents for different phases of the development of centres.


Childcare Act (2006) website

The Childcare Act is concerned with Early Years and childcare. The Act aims to transform childcare and Early Years services in England taking forward some of the key commitments from the Ten Year Childcare Strategy (2004).
Measures in the Act formalise the strategic role local authorities play through a set of new duties which require them to improve the five Every Child Matters (ECM) for all pre-school children and reduce inequalities in these outcomes; secure sufficient childcare for working parents; and provide a better parental information service. 


Giving children a healthy start:  review of health improvements in children from birth to five years PDF (3.10 MB)

In February 2010, the Audit Commission issued its report on the local implementation of national policy from 1999 to 2009 on the health of children from birth to five years of age in England.  The report found that recent increased focus and funding for early years has not produced widespread improvements in health outcomes. Indeed some health indicators have worsened – for example, obesity and dental health –and the health inequalities gap between rich and poor has barely changed.

Recommendations which commissioners of early years and children’s centres should consider include:

  • local services work under a single joint set of priorities and targets, supported by a clear statement of government policy not subject to frequent revision and addition;
  • responsibility (and therefore accountability) for commissioning and delivering services is clear locally;
  • the amount spent on under-fives’ health within an area is identified and its targeting reviewed, so as to have most impact on the most vulnerable groups;
  • data on the extent to which intended users are actually accessing services is routinely examined and action taken to identify and attract those that are not;
  • the targeting and impact of individual interventions and services are rigorously reviewed, and investment and disinvestment decisions made accordingly;
  • local statutory bodies monitor the quality and impact of services for  the under-fives in the light of financial pressures to ensure that they are maintained;
  • and  the good practice that is evident in some localities is celebrated and information about it widely shared.


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