FREE nursery places will be available to almost half of Bolton’s two year-olds during the next academic year.

Current funding means only 20 per cent of the poorest children from the most deprived areas of Bolton are able to benefit.

But a government cash injection of £5 million will see the figure double to 40 per cent, with free places rising from 855 to 2,140.

A Bolton Council spokesman said: “Evidence shows that early access to high quality education and childcare helps improve children’s communication skills and their ability to socialise, make friends and be ready for primary school.”

Town Hall bosses were last year awarded a slice of £534 million of government money to fund the places for children from households earning less than £16,190.

The scheme is an extension of the introduction of the free early years education for all three and four-years-olds in 1999.

Currently 670 places have been taken up by two-year-olds, which equates to 78 per cent of those eligible, and council officers say there is a consistent level of take up when compared to the introduction of free child care three and four years olds.

This is expected to rise but it is unlikely to reach 100 per cent as some parents do not want their children to attend a nursery at the age of two.

In September, the £5 million cash injection will fully fund all the places which are taken up.

It is expected there will be enough places for 75 per cent of eligible children in September, with enough places for all in January.

Children who take up the free entitlement will receive 15 hours of free early education each week for 38 weeks of the year.

Free entitlement for three and four year olds was introduced in 2009, which, unlike for two-years-olds, is a universal entitlement.

Town Hall chiefs will have to change the way the funding is allocated following an increase in the numbers of nurseries that have qualified early years’ staff — which has raised the standard of care — to ensure the free offer is covered by the funding provided by the Government.