The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). This rapid response presents current research on the impact of the pandemic on the ECEC sector in England and the impact of changes in access to ECEC on pre-school children. It also covers Government financial support for education recovery in the early years and stakeholder perspectives ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review. It complements the POSTnote on Early Childhood Education and Care, which summarises the evidence on the association between ECEC and children’s development in England, the impact of government-funded ECEC places on families and the sector, and stakeholder perspectives on public policy priorities.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ECEC sector in a number of ways, including temporary and permanent setting closures, reduced demand for ECEC places and workforce challenges.
  • The number of children returning to settings has been increasing. The latest available Department for Education data indicate that 697,000 children were attending early years childcare settings on 16 September 2021, about 76% of the usual daily level of attendance in the Autumn term.
  • The finances of childcare providers were already weak in several parts of the sector before the pandemic. Despite government support to the sector during COVID-19, closures and reduced demand have increased financial pressures and stakeholders have raised concerns about the pandemic’s long-term impact on financial sustainability.
  • Prior to the pandemic, there were long-term issues recruiting and retaining staff, especially highly qualified staff. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic and some stakeholders have expressed concerns that this could compromise the quality of ECEC in the long term.
  • Available evidence suggests that changes in access to ECEC has impacted pre-school children in a number of ways, including social, emotional and behavioural development and mental health, physical development and school readiness. However, evidence also suggests that children and families have experienced the pandemic in very different ways, which has shaped any impacts on development, both positive and negative.
  • Negative impacts on children’s development and mental health from changes in access to ECEC are more likely for disadvantaged children and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), as well as vulnerable children.
  • Several stakeholders have called for additional financial support to the ECEC sector, ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, due out on 27 October 2021.
  • In October 2021, the House of Commons Petitions Committee published its report on the Impact of COVID-19 on new parents: one year on, which calls on the Government to commission a review into the funding and affordability of childcare.

Background

ECEC refers to formal education and care provided in settings registered with a regulator, such as Ofsted in England, for example nurseries, childminders, playgroups and children’s centres. Regulated ECEC settings include private and public providers. Further information about ECEC in England can be found in the POSTnote on Early Childhood Education and Care and the Commons Library briefing on Early years funding (England). This rapid response provides an overview of the impact of COVID-19 on ECEC provided in regulated settings from birth to the start of primary school. It does not cover informal care provided by relatives or friends, or school reception year. Education is devolved and this rapid response applies to England only.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ECEC sector

The pandemic has impacted the ECEC sector in a number of ways, including temporary and permanent setting closures, reduced demand for ECEC places and workforce challenges. Together, these have implications for the financial sustainability of the sector.

Temporary setting closures

During the first national lockdown, ECEC settings were closed from 20 March 2020, except to children of critical workers and vulnerable children. From 1 June 2020, ECEC settings were re-opened to all children, but with safety measures in place. From 20 July 2020, restrictions on group sizes in ECEC settings were lifted allowing them to ‘fully re-open’. This has remained the position, with ECEC settings in England able to remain open under all levels of the previous tiered system of local restrictions and the subsequent two national lockdowns, subject to a contingency framework (see Commons Library briefing Coronavirus: Childcare FAQs).

The Department for Education’s (DfE) guidance for providers acknowledges that some settings may be unable to open, for instance due to staff shortages or low levels of demand. Since June 2020, many settings report having had to temporarily close, either fully or partially (one or more rooms closed while other rooms continue to operate), as a result of insufficient demand for places, or staff or children self-isolating. For example, the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) and Education Policy Institute (EPI) conducted a year-long study exploring how the pandemic impacted the Early Years Sector in Great Britain. They reported that of those settings that responded to a survey, 73% partially or fully closed between August and November 2020; while 12% fully and 25% partially closed at least once between March and May 2021. However, findings of each quarterly report are not directly comparable because different settings responded to the survey and analysis methods varied.

Permanent setting closures

In addition to temporary closures, some settings have closed permanently. The latest Ofsted data show a net reduction of 3,847 providers registered with Ofsted across all categories from 1 April 2020 to 31 July 2021, a decrease of approximately 5%. This continues an ongoing decline in the number of childcare providers, which Ofsted data show have fallen by 17% from August 2015 to March 2021, mainly due to a fall in the number of childminders.

The NDNA has reported that 232 nurseries closed between April 2020 and March 2021, which they estimate to affect over 11,000 children in England. They report that this was a 35% increase in closures on the 12 months prior to the pandemic and that the highest number of closures occurred in the most deprived areas of England, based on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), the official measure of relative deprivation for the country. They also found evidence of regional variation, for instance London and the South East were reportedly over-represented in the closure data, accounting for 38% of all closures during the height of the pandemic.

COVID-19 and Childcare: Local impacts across England is a study exploring the impact of the pandemic on early education and care services, being undertaken by a team of researchers from the Centre for Evidence and Implementation, University of East London, UCL, Frontier Economics, Coram Family and Childcare, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). A report of the research published by Coram Family and Childcare and Frontier Economics in July 2021, based on interviews with 122 Local Authority (LA) Early Leads, found wide and varied local support for the sector. Few permanent setting closures due to the pandemic were reported and most LAs reported either no or small numbers of providers at substantial risk of having to close in the near future. However, many LAs noted that it was important to wait and see what the financial impacts would be once financial supports had been withdrawn and the longer-term impacts of the pandemic had played out.

Demand for ECEC places

In the Coram study, unsurprisingly, all LAs reported that the numbers of children in childcare were severely down during the initial lockdown between March and May 2020, when only children of key workers and vulnerable children were permitted to attend. In early Spring 2021, most LAs (54%) reported that levels of childcare use were low, followed by ‘still rising’ (20%) and ‘near normal’ (19%). The latest available DfE data indicate that 697,000 children were attending early years childcare settings on 16 September 2021, which they estimate to be about 76% of the usual daily level of attendance in the Autumn term. Although the number of children returning to settings has been increasing, stakeholders have raised concerns about its long-term impact on financial sustainability.

Most ECEC settings provide both parent-paid hours and the government-funded early education entitlement, and cross subsidise between these two income streams. In the Coram study, most LAs described a marked difference in the impacts for parent-paid hours and funded entitlements. Over half of LAs reported that use of parent-paid hours had been reduced to a greater extent than funded hours, although many LAs also reported declines in demand for funded hours for two-year-olds. Reduced demand was associated with the move to home working, parents reducing or stopping work temporarily (on furlough) or permanently (through unemployment). The Coram study authors suggest that if this change is permanent, it could have negative effects on provision for the funded entitlements and for groups already poorly served by the childcare market, such as children with SEND and families working atypical hours.

The Government continued to fund LAs for the entitlements in 2020 based on attendance levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (using census data from January 2020), even if fewer children were attending. This offered some financial protection and certainty to providers, but it also meant that many providers were receiving funding for children who were either temporarily or permanently absent from their setting. From January to March 2021, funding was based on the January 2021 census, but with top-ups provided to LAs if attendance rose after the census was taken, up to 85% of their January 2020 census level. The approach taken was criticised by some stakeholders, including the IFS, for potentially requiring LAs to find funding for places that would traditionally have been funded by the UK government, if demand for places exceeded the cap. In guidance published by the DfE, Use of free early education entitlements funding during coronavirus (COVID-19), DfE state that given the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on childcare attendance levels and because the January 2021 census data may be lower than normal, a different approach to funding has been taken for the 2021 to 2022 financial year. From April to December 2021, DfE is funding all LAs on a termly attendance count, based on actual attendance, to ensure that funding to LAs aligns with attendance as more children return to their settings. The spring 2022 term will be based on the January 2022 census as normal.

Workforce challenges

Prior to the pandemic, a review of the early years workforce in England by the EPI reported immediate and long-term issues recruiting and retaining staff, especially highly qualified staff. A report by the Social Mobility Commission on the stability of the early years workforce in England in August 2020 stated that the early years workforce experience comparatively low pay, reliance on in-work benefits, high work demands and low social status, which contribute to high staff turnover. It reported that these “drivers of workforce instability are likely to persist and even worsen as a result of the pandemic.”

The EPI and NDNA study reported that lack of demand in 2020 had resulted in staff being made redundant, having their pay reduced, or voluntarily leaving settings. For example, they report that approximately 7% of staff voluntarily left the sector between August and November 2020, with a quarter (24%) of settings reporting that these employees did not return to their old jobs because they found alternative employment during furlough. They argue that this risks creating long-term staffing shortfall, and that settings may be unable to find suitable replacements for staff who have left the sector as demand increases, which could compromise the quality of early years education on offer in the long term. A survey of 3,800 early years workers carried out by the Early Years Alliance (EYA) between December 2020 and January 2021 found that one in five were considering leaving the sector due to difficulties relating to the impact of the pandemic on the sector. Nearly nine in ten of those who responded felt that the government had not adequately valued the role of the ECEC sector during the pandemic.

A rapid evidence review on the childcare workforce was published by the University of Warwick in September 2021, funded by DfE following a recommendation from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). It found that the proportion of childcare workers showing symptoms of stress was already high prior to the pandemic and that this worsened during the pandemic. They report that this was primarily due to concerns about providing adequate support for children experiencing difficulties, fears about physical safety cause by an inability to socially distance, feeling underappreciated and undervalued, and financial stresses and concerns about job security. A report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in November 2020 found that practitioners and leaders working with children and young people with SEND had found the pandemic personally and professionally difficult. Initial findings from the Childcare during COVID-19 Study, led by the University of Leeds and the University of Bristol, found that a combination of health concerns, changes to provision and financial strain, had accelerated the loss of experienced workers from the sector and that COVID-19 related factors had widened the responsibilities of early years workers and intensified their work. They found that morale among the workforce was very low and report that worsening conditions of work in the sector indicate that workforce attrition will continue, with a potential recruitment and retention crisis on the horizon. They argue that these conditions also diminish quality of care and education and that patterns of workforce change indicate that it is children and parents in areas of greatest deprivation who will lose access to high quality ECEC.

Financial sustainability

There has been debate over whether early years funding is adequate for a number of years (see POSTnote on Early Childhood Education and Care). Analysis by the IFS suggested that the finances of childcare providers were already weak in several parts of the sector before the COVID-19 pandemic and that closures and reduced demand has had “severe financial consequences”.

The Government announced a range of measures aimed at supporting the ECEC sector during the pandemic. This includes changes to the way the Government funds LAs for the entitlements (see above), the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. For further information, see Commons Library briefing on Early Years Funding (England).

This support was welcomed by the sector. However, the extent of support and its implementation was also criticised. For example, in a survey of 3,000 private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers in April 2020 by the EYA, 74% of respondents said that the government hadn’t provided enough support for early years providers at that time. The EYA also criticised the DfE for requiring ECEC providers to absorb additional costs associated with making settings COVID-secure, such as cleaning costs and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), when additional financial support was made available to schools and colleges. A report published in October 2020 by the Education Policy Institute also argued that early DfE guidance led to inaccurate expectations from providers about the support they would receive from the Government. The Coram study found that between February and April 2021, 70% of the LAs that responded to the survey reported having allocated local funds to directly support settings, including using their discretionary sustainability grants and topping up the entitlement funding as well as providing free or discounted PPE and cleaning materials. However, there was substantial variation in additional spending by individual LAs.

In 2020, the IFS analysis estimated that the hardest hit settings would be those that relied more heavily on income from parent fees. They noted that a longer-lasting fall in demand for childcare could seriously hamper financial sustainability in the sector going forward. Early findings from the Childcare during COVID-19 Study, published in September 2021, suggested that closures and reduced parent demand have “highlighted fragility in providers’ operation models” and that there is a “high risk of market failure leading to insufficient provision.”

Financial sustainability of Maintained Nursery Schools

Maintained nursery schools (MNS) are LA-run schools providing early education to children aged 2, 3 and 4 years of age. In 2019, there were 389 MNS in England. These cater for a larger proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and children with SEND. In recognition of their higher running costs, MNS receive supplementary funding from the Government. Supplementary funding has been agreed on a yearly basis since its introduction in 2017. Although the Government continued to fund the entitlements throughout the pandemic, MNS have seen a drop in income, from this and other sources, such as parent fees.

In March and April 2021, the Early Education charity and the trade unions NAHT, NEU and Unison surveyed all MNS in England on the impact of the pandemic on their finances and future survival. 200 responded to the online survey, spread across 75 LAs. These MNS reported losing an average of £72,000 of income and an additional £8,000 on average for COVID-related costs. 46% of MNS reported that they would be in deficit as of 31st March 2021, 26% for last year only and 20% for last year and one or more previous years. Only 23% reported they could continue to operate at current funding levels. One third of MNS who responded said they were having to cut staff and services due to the costs associated with the pandemic and uncertainty over funding for spring 2022. A survey of 101 MNS conducted by Early Education in June 2021 found increased demand for places for children with SEND, coupled with increasing funding constraints.

In November 2020, the Minister for Children and Families announced a “continuation of around £60 million of supplementary funding for MNS in the 2021-22 financial year.” However, the APPG for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception have called for funding for MNS to be put on a long-term basis.

Impact of changes in access to ECEC on pre-school children

During the first lockdown when ECEC settings were closed except to children of critical workers and those classified as vulnerable, estimates by the IFS suggest that up to 40% of children aged 0 to 4 were potentially eligible for childcare, mainly due to the proportion of people who were classified as key workers. DfE data show that on 21 May, during the first national lockdown, 88,000 children were attending ECEC, about 5% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time. DfE estimated this was 15% of all children and young people classified as ‘Children in Need’ or who had an Education, Health and Care Plan.

Concerns have been raised by parents, schools and early years experts about the impact of lack of access to ECEC on young children’s development. Available evidence suggests that changes in access to ECEC has impacted pre-school children in a number of ways, including socio-emotional and behavioural development and mental health, physical development and school readiness. Evidence also suggests however that children and families have experienced the pandemic in very different ways, which has shaped any impacts on development, both positive and negative. Negative impacts are more likely for disadvantaged children and children with SEND, as well as vulnerable children.

Cognitive development

Research has highlighted the positive impact of attending ECEC on some aspects of cognitive development during COVID-19 for some groups of children. For example, a UK study involving 189 families explored the association between time spent in ECEC during the pandemic, socio-economic status and children’s cognitive development. More time spent in ECEC during the 2020 pandemic was associated with greater gains in receptive vocabulary. For example, compared to peers, children who accessed 1 day a week of ECEC understood 24 more new words during Spring to Winter 2020, while those attending 2 days per week understood 48 new words over the same period. In particular, children from lower income families showed more enhanced language benefits when they continued to access ECEC, suggesting disrupted access to ECEC during the pandemic may have disproportionately affected disadvantaged children. A large multinational study analysed the vocabularies of 1,742 children aged 8 to 36 months from 13 countries, at the beginning and end of the first lockdown period in their respective countries (from March to September 2020). They found that during this period of increased time at home with caregivers, children who had less passive screen time and whose caregivers read to them during lockdown showed larger gains in vocabulary size, compared to pre-lockdown age-matched peers, after controlling for socio-economic status.

Social, emotional and behavioural development and mental health

The impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health and well-being is covered in the POSTnote on Children’s Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic. This indicates that for children and young people, there has been an overall deterioration in mental health and well-being during the pandemic. There are limited data available to date on pre-school children, although it has been suggested that the impact on younger children may be seen at a later stage of development. The Co-SPYCE study has been tracking the mental health of UK pre-school children aged 2 to 4 and their families during the pandemic. Based on survey data initially collected from 972 parents and carers between April and June 2020, and then again one month later, children’s emotional problems were found to remain relatively stable over the month period. A recent briefing by the Sutton Trust cites mixed evidence of how parents perceived the impact of lockdown on their children. Findings from the survey found that negative impacts on children’s development were more likely to be reported in instances where children could not access ECEC compared to those who could and those who had not attended pre-pandemic.

As part of Ofsted’s series of reports on the impact of COVID-19, interviews were conducted with ECEC providers in autumn 2020. Responses from 208 registered providers in October 2020 and 739 providers in November 2020, cited particular concerns around children’s personal, social and emotional development upon returning to settings. In the DfE’s Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework, which sets the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five, each child must be assigned a key person. Their role is to help ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs, to help the child become familiar with the setting, offer a settled relationship for the child and build a relationship with their parents. Research undertaken by York St John University and Kids Planet Day Nurseries highlighted the significant disruption to the key person role as a consequence of the pandemic, reducing the consistency of emotional support.

Physical development

Access to outdoor space is important for physical activity and mental health, as well as opportunities to play and socialise. Play promotes cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being in young children. Concerns have been raised by academics and charities throughout the pandemic about the limited opportunities for children to play and engage in physical activity due to pandemic restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the unequal access to green spaces by different populations and the proportion of families with no access to gardens or communal spaces. For example, analysis by the Children’s Commissioner shows that over 1 million children did not have access to a private garden during lockdown. Providers reported to Ofsted that different experiences at home influenced the impact on physical development, for instance children who had opportunities to spend more time outside had made progress with their learning. On the other hand, some children who had fewer opportunities to practice motor skills, for example holding scissors, or limited access to outdoor space had lost their physical confidence and were re-learning these skills. Providers were attempting to address this by utilising outdoor areas more frequently and creating more opportunities for creative play. PlayFirstUK, a group of academics from UK institutions, called for a ‘summer of play’ in 2021 as part of the Government’s education catch-up plans to promote children’s mental health and well-being.

School readiness

One of the objectives of Government ECEC policy is to improve school readiness. Some research has focused on the impact of the pandemic on the extent to which children are ready for school as evaluated at entry to Reception. A survey of 528 early years and primary school teaching professionals conducted by Kindred squared and YouGov found that on average 43% of children were reportedly not school-ready upon entering Reception. The increased number of children not considered school-ready was attributed to non-attendance at nursery by over half of respondents (62%). The Education Endowment Foundation published the interim report of the School Starters Study in April 2021, with the final report expected in Spring 2022. The survey of 58 schools in England found that 76% of schools reported children needed more support when entering school in the Autumn Term 2020 than previously. Communication and language development; personal, social and emotional development; and literacy were all cited as particular areas of concern by schools. However, once the school year had started most parents reported that children had settled well and were not concerned about their child’s ability to cope.

Experiences of children and families during the pandemic

Evidence shows that the home learning environment, the learning opportunities and activities parents create and do with children in the home (such as reading, drawing and singing nursery rhymes), and demographic characteristics (such as parent education level and socio-economic status), are among the strongest predictors of children’s development in the early years (see POSTnote on Early Childhood Education and Care). Available evidence from the pandemic suggests that families experienced the first national lockdown and subsequent restrictions in very different ways and that this has shaped the ability of young children to settle back into ECEC settings after lockdown.

For example, initial findings of the British Families in Lockdown study, led by Leeds Trinity University, found that some families reported positive experiences of lockdown in terms of increased family time, strengthening bonds and enhancing closeness. However, other families, including single parents, full-time working parents, families who had younger children, caring responsibilities, and children with SEND, reported more difficulties. A rapid evidence review on the impact of lockdowns and school closures on parents and carers in the UK, managed by the EPPI-Centre at UCL, was commissioned by DfE following a recommendation from SAGE. Published in September 2021, it found that lockdowns and school closures had a negative impact on parents and carers, with especially pronounced impacts on mothers, single parents and those on lower income, and parents and carers of children with special educational needs and/or neurodevelopmental disorders.

To support families, many providers adapted their interaction with parents, providing virtual support and physical resources. For example, Sheringham Nursery School & Children’s Centre in East London and Little Owls in Leeds made use of social media and digital platforms to maintain contact and share learning ideas. Resource packs were also delivered to children’s homes and settings found that sharing examples of how to use them, keeping messages and videos short, and modelling activities were particularly effective at engaging parents. Several of the Little Owl settings observed increases in parental confidence, especially in relation to using online platforms, and understanding the importance of play. Parents supported by Sheringham Nursery School reported that they spent more time playing with their child, talking and sharing books. In 2020, the CORAM for Life Education charity launched a free online toolkit for ECEC providers and schools to support the mental health of children in the early years and primary school.

Other national and local organisations also developed freely available resources to support parents. For example, the UK Government launched a three-year Hungry Little Minds campaign in July 2019, which provides tips, activity ideas and advice to parents to support children’s language and communication. At the local level this included the 50 things to do before you’re 5 project run by a Bradford Nursery School, which any LA could take part in, with activities tailored to local areas. The BBC also launched Tiny Happy People, to promote young children’s early communication skills.

Disadvantaged children and children with SEND

Providers have expressed particular concerns about learning and development amongst disadvantaged children and children with SEND. The EYA survey of 1,300 education professionals working across nurseries, pre-schools and as childminders, found that 47% of respondents felt the attainment gap in the under-5’s had grown since the beginning of the pandemic. More than half of professionals (54%) observed negative changes in learning and development during the first national lockdown, while 42% reported these negative changes were more evident amongst disadvantaged children. Research undertaken by Ofsted in October 2020 indicated that providers were more concerned about the learning and development of children with SEND and children living in poverty, as well as children who speak English as an additional language and children whose parents were not engaging previously. The report by Ofsted and the CQC found that children and young people with SEND were less likely to be attending their schools and colleges than their peers in the Autumn 2020 term, and that they faced additional barriers to attending their education settings, or were not able to access the full curriculum as a result of the pandemic. They reported that good communication and frequent contact with families supported children and young people with SEND to return to education.

Vulnerable children

The pandemic put families under new stress and strain from lockdown requirements and other public health measures. At the same time, children were cut off from many of the sources of support that they might previously have had and were less visible to the range of professionals who would normally engage with them day to day. Reports by the Children’s Society and the Children’s Commissioner in 2020 both highlighted that children who were already vulnerable or living in precarious situations could face particular hardship through the pandemic. This includes children living in households where there is domestic violence, adult mental ill health and substance abuse, poverty, overcrowding and social isolation. A report by the OECD also noted that excessive or prolonged activation of stress responses can harm children’s health and development, particularly young children.

A small-scale study involving 55 early years practitioners and primary school teachers in South East England highlighted the difficulties of detecting safeguarding issues during setting closures in the first lockdown. The Early Intervention Foundation and Action for Children explored the impact of COVID-19 on early help services, through interviews carried out between March and May 2020. They reported challenges services faced in supporting vulnerable children and families during lockdown and setting closures, including low take-up of places by vulnerable children and the probable impact of time away from provision on disadvantaged children. Respondents also cited concerns about risks to children’s safety without access to the usual range of professionals and outside agencies encountered outside the home. The report by Ofsted and the CQC found that while leaders took steps to increase monitoring of vulnerable children and young people, some were exposed to increased levels of abuse and neglect while at home or in care.

Government financial support for education recovery in the early years and the Spending Review

Since 2020, the UK Government has announced a total of £3.1 billion to support education recovery from COVID-19 across early years, schools and colleges. £163 million of this has been allocated to the ECEC sector from birth to the start of primary school:

Additionally, the DfE has allocated £17 million for the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) to support reception-aged children.

There has been some criticism of the Government’s education recovery package. In June 2021, the Government’s Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned stating that “I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has to date indicated it intends to provide.” In oral evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee in June 2021, Sir Kevan stated that a range of options had been put forward, including proposals in the region of £15 billion. Sir Kevan called on the government to “allocate the additional resources that are likely to be needed for a successful recovery through the forthcoming Spending Review.”

Several other stakeholders have called for additional financial support to the ECEC sector, ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, due out on 27 October 2021. The Sutton Trust has called for Early Years Education to be a central plank of recovery, with increased eligibility to funded early education for 3 to 4 year olds beyond 15 hours, with a focus on those from less well-off homes. They have also called for an increase to the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP), additional funding for eligible disadvantaged 3 and 4-year-olds, to bring it to levels equivalent to those in primary school. The EPI has also proposed an increase in the EYPP to support education recovery in the early years. The APPG for Childcare & Early Education have called on the Government to allocate a catch-up premium of almost £3,000 per child and to undertake a review of early years funding. The Local Government Association have called for a “significant increase in funding rates for early entitlements in all settings to enable the early years sector to reduce the disadvantage gap and allow all children the opportunity of the best possible start.”

Over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Government to commission an independent review of childcare funding and affordability. In its response in June 2021, DfE stated that “We are not currently planning a review of early years funding, but we continue to evaluate the support on offer and endeavour to provide support to both parents and providers to ensure the sustainability of the sector.” The petition was debated in Parliament in September 2021. The Minister for Children and Families stated that officials were “in regular discussions with the Treasury as we prepare for the forthcoming spending review.” In October 2021, the House of Commons Petitions Committee published its report on the Impact of COVID-19 on new parents: one year on, which calls on the Government to commission a review into the funding and affordability of childcare.

Acknowledgements

POST is grateful to Ria Bernard for co-authoring this briefing and to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding her parliamentary fellowship. For further information on this subject, please contact the co-author Dr Abbi Hobbs.


Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik on Unsplash

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