Twelve priority areas in Norfolk identified for expansion of free early education for two-year-olds

Parents of disadvantaged children will be able to receive free education from next year after 12 priority areas were identified in Norfolk in an expansion of help for two-year-olds.

From September 2013 the government's Fairness Premium policy will ensure two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds will receive free pre-school education.

Norfolk County Council education bosses admitted in September they were facing a 'considerable challenge' to ensure enough nurseries and childcare places and there were particular concerns there would not be enough providers in parts of Norwich and Great Yarmouth where high numbers of eligible two-year-olds live.

While government cash is available to fund the expansion of nurseries and children's centres, education officers face a challenge in making sure places are available.

Now council leaders are set to affirm where the priority areas will be - seven in Norwich, two in Great Yarmouth area, two in King's Lynn and one in Thetford.

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The new government requirements mean the county council needs to provide free education for 2,000 two-year-olds by September 2013 and a further 2,700 by September 2014.

At the moment, all three and four-year-olds are eligible for 15 hours of free early education per week.

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There are currently 700 children accessing a two-year-old place in Norfolk but not all take up the full 15-hour entitlement. This means the county council need to increase this by a further 1,300 children to reach its target of 2,000 places.

The government has confirmed that money to fund the free early education will be ring-fenced within the Dedicated Schools Grant from April 2013, so nurseries, pre-schools and childminders can be confident that, if they expand to offer these new places, the funding will be available.

The 12 priority areas have been listed in a report for the county council's Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel, which will meet on Thursday to approve the priority areas.

The areas have been ranked in terms of priority using 'selected criteria' - such as the number of out-of-work households and early education attainment figures such as language and literacy - so that resources can be focused on the areas of greatest need.

The children's centre (CC) ranked as the highest priority in the county is the north Norwich area of Catton, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross, ahead of Great Yarmouth's Greenacre CC.

Norwich South MP, Simon Wright, played a key part in the rolling out of the scheme as a parliamentary aide to Liberal Democrat minister for children and families Sarah Teather, who has since been replaced by fellow Lib Dem David Laws.

The sixth-ranked Bowthorpe, West Earlham and Costessey Area CC is part of Mr Wright's constituency, as is the seventh-ranked Earlham Early Years CC, ninth-ranked East City and Framingham Earl Areas CC and 12th-ranked City and Eaton CC.

Mr Wright, who remains a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to the children and families minister, said: 'The early years of a child's life help shape the development of a child's brain and are, ultimately, a big indicator of future success.

'Norwich has a very diverse community so there are some very well off households in the city which are very close to some of the most deprived wards in the whole country.

'So we do have that diversity and the wage gap between some of the more deprived areas with the better off areas, and the county council focusing on the more deprived areas can help that to change.'

In the most recent health statistics, released in July, Great Yarmouth was shown to have deprivation levels higher than the national average and about 4,600 children living in poverty.

So Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis was equally pleased to see that two children's centres in his constituency are to benefit.

He said: 'Experts across the piste say that early intervention can make a huge difference to a child's life so it is fantastic that areas with families from more deprived backgrounds are being focused on.

'The Greenacre area, where we also have the academy (Great Yarmouth Primary Academy), is seeing a really big push this year and that will mean long-term benefits because children know they have encouragement and support to better themselves.

'I think children in Great Yarmouth have a really good opportunity now because the area has an exciting future with all the investment in the energy sector in the area, which should bring better-paid jobs.

'So early intervention could lead to some really good opportunities in the future for them.'

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