A project to place two-year-olds in school has been a "runaway success" education minister Elizabeth Truss told the Commons Education Select Committee today.
Asked if she was comfortable that schools were the right environment for two-year-olds to be from breakfast to bedtime, Ms Truss said: “[The pilot] has been heavily oversubscribed by parents, there is very, very positive feedback… Parents feel it is part of the community, it is part of the educational continuum."
And the minister added: "Of course they are not studying trigonometry at age 2 they are doing things like playing with water and counting bricks. All the things that you expect in a high-quality nursery.”
The government has given £10,000 each to 49 schools to look into ways of developing provision that is suitable for two-year-olds. The project began in September 2013 and will run until next month.
A baseline survey published in April revealed that the majority of schools had filled all their places and had a waiting list. It also found that 42 schools reported staff training on dealing with two-year-olds was needed. But 92 per cent reported that an early years professional or teacher was working on a regular basis with the two-year-olds.
The government has pledged that around 40 per cent of two-year-old children, about 260,000, will be eligible for fully-funded early education places from September – twice as many as now. But there are concerns that the expansion will be at the expense of quality.
The drive behind the policy is to help those children from disadvantaged backgrounds to benefit from early education. But research has found that children only benefit from high-quality early years provision, which is linked to having graduate staff.
Ms Truss wrote to local authorities in December 2013 asking them to work with school nurseries to increase the number of high-quality places for two-year-olds.
And Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, has also called for schools to get involved in teaching two-year-olds, saying that only a third of children from low-income homes have achieved a "good" level of development by the age of five.
But a University of Oxford study suggests that, rather than putting two-year-olds in schools, graduates should be employed by private nurseries.
And there are widespread concerns about the ‘schoolification’ of nurseries and early years provision.