Ofsted briefing: serious concerns for early years sector

Research from Ofsted’s interviews with providers reveal the full impact of the challenges early years providers are facing, with falling numbers of children and financial pressures causing a third to worry about closure.Amanda Spielman

But it also showed how hard nurseries were working to support children, with more training for staff on topics such as language and communication and mental health.

Ofsted applauded them for their “considerable resilience and creativity”.

The report was written following research interviews with 739 early years providers from October 2020.

It revealed:
  • Fewer children than expected are taking up early years places following the first national lockdown 
  • Providers were concerned about the financial impact of the pandemic on their businesses with a third worried that their business will have to close 
  • Most continue to operate with fewer children on roll and lower demand for places compared with last year 
  • Many are struggling to provide consistent staffing due to periods of staff illness or self isolation 
  • Providers remained concerned about the impact of the restrictions on children’s personal, social and emotional development. Some children’s behaviour had deteriorated and providers reported that children who had become used to longer periods of screen time were struggling to engage in play and activities. 
  • Providers have had to make changes to the activities and experiences they provide
  • Providers had worked with their staff to plan how best to help children when they returned
  • Some were developing their staff with more training on topics such as language and communication, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and mental health
  • Providers reported that grouping children in smaller ‘bubbles’ had improved staff’s knowledge about what each child could do. This had enabled them to plan more focused teaching, close gaps and make up for what had not been taught and learned so far
  • Providers were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on managers’ and staff’s well-being.


Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA said: “This Ofsted briefing really does show how hard early years providers and their practitioners have been working to get children back into their settings so they can continue their learning.

“But it also echoes ours and the sectors’ main concerns about low attendance numbers and the impact of that on children’s development and the childcare businesses’ sustainability. Even where children are returning, they may be coming in fewer hours than previously.

“Those most affected are children from deprived backgrounds including funded two year olds who need high quality early education and care most of all to thrive and reach their full potential.

“Nurseries need assurance from the Government now that, due to lower numbers of children than expected, they must be funded at January 2019 figures rather than the actual head count in 2021. This arrangement for funding from next month must be announced as soon as possible for providers to be able to plan.

“NDNA is proud to be supporting a sector which, despite these challenging issues, is working wonders to educate children adversely affected by the pandemic, with many training their staff in new areas to be able to support children as effectively as possible. This must be recognised and their crucial work safeguarded.”

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Faced with all of these pressures, the education and social care sectors are showing considerable resilience and creativity to provide children and learners with the best experience they can. And all of this is being done against the most challenging backdrop for staff in recent times. I would like to record my appreciation for everyone working in education and social care – from childminders and social workers to teachers and college tutors.”

Read the evidence here