Local authorities remain concerned about future of childcare sector

Coram Family and Childcare and Frontier Economics has released its latest report Covid and Childcare: The Role of Local AuthoritiesPurnima Tanuku OBE

The report, funded by Nuffield Foundation, focuses on the role played by local authorities (LA) in supporting parents and childcare providers during the pandemic, the impacts of Covid on local childcare, and how the pandemic experience may permanently change the LA role in the sector.

Key findings from the report include: 
  • Demand for parent paid hours fell during the first lockdown and stayed “significantly below usual levels” – due to shift to home working, the furlough scheme or parents working less
  • Demand for parent paid hours fell more than funded hours – although many LAs reported a decline in take up of funded 2 year old’s hours
  • Demand has returned unevenly throughout the country, a moderate financial threat to providers –  with a small number at threat of future closure but long term impacts unknown especially when financial support withdrawn
  • Almost all LAs had supported parents with childcare – providing guidance and assistance finding places
  • All LAs supported providers responding to the most pressing local needs – this was mainly around  advice and assistance as well as supporting staffing issues
  • Many factors had hindered LA support – national government guidance was the most common reason given
  • Status of early years sector – strong feeling it is undervalued and not understood within national or local government.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “We are extremely concerned about the long-term sustainability of the childcare and out-of-school care sector in England and the unknown impact the pandemic will have on its future, as highlighted in this report.

“With demand still nowhere near usual levels – the DfE’s own figures showed only 45% of usual numbers of children were in settings last week – we know that many nurseries are teetering on the brink and trying to sustain huge losses.

“Our recent investigation into closures during the height of the pandemic showed that the rate of closures was 35% higher than the previous year, so we know it is already having a negative impact.

“It is a relief to hear that local authorities believe that quality of provision has been unaffected by the room closures and restrictions that nurseries have had to deal with. This is a great tribute to the creativity, dedication and resilience of the early years workforce who have found ways to continue educating and supporting our youngest children. 

“We continue to be proud of the fantastic and hugely important work our childcare practitioners do, but their efforts are in spite of a lack of interest and support from the government. It’s discouraging to hear that even local authority early years teams feel that the sector is undervalued and misunderstood within both local and national governments. This is something which affects the sector deeply and which we strive to put right every day in our dealings with civil servants, ministers and the media. Our members really appreciated the support from their local authority teams over the last 18 months.”

Megan Jarvie, Head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Local authorities play a crucial role in supporting families and childcare providers so that families can find the childcare they need to support children’s development and help parents to work. These findings show the great potential local authorities hold to support the childcare market through the current threats when they have the right support and funding.”

The report presents the findings from semi-structured telephone interviews undertaken with 122 LA Early Years Leads between February and April 2021.

Read the full report here.