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DfE knew it was underfunding

The longstanding row over the underfunding of nurseries and childminders has intensified

Early Years Alliance wins two-year battle over FOI request Government stands accused of ‘shamelessly’ and ‘knowingly underfunding’ the early years sector MPs call for ‘meaningful’

funding review

The longstanding battle for more funding between the early years sector and the Government has ramped up in the wake of revelations from an Early Years Alliance investigation.

Private official documents obtained by the alliance, a er a two-year Freedom of Information dispute, reveal that ministers at the Department for Education were aware in 2015 that it was severely underfunding providers of funded childcare places for three- and four-year-olds.

Documents obtained by the alliance show that early years funding rates for 2020/21 were less than two-thirds of what officials estimated to be the true cost of ‘fully funding’ the scheme.

On the same day (15 June), data published by Ofsted showed that more than 2,500 childcare providers have closed this year. The standoff between the alliance and ministers continued, with children and families minister Vicky Ford telling the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Early Education and Childcare on 22 June that the FOI ‘predates the significant investments that were made in 2019 and 2020 in upli s to the early funding rates for the free childcare offers’.

However, in response at the same meeting, the alliance’s chief executive, Neil Leitch, stated to the APPG, ‘Minister Ford implied the FOI did not take into

One of the documents released under the FOI request account recent funding. To be clear, [the] DfE anticipated the funding required in 20/21 to be £7.49 per hour. Regardless of recent investments, the current average rate paid is £4.89, so where is the justification in defending the position? This was not on the current [secretary of state] and minister’s watch, so they have the choice to continue to be complicit or switch on their moral compass and do something about it!’

Meanwhile, the cross-party group of MPs is calling for ‘a meaningful review’ of childcare funding, and has called on the Government to provide almost £3,000 per child to tackle underfunding. The group is chaired by the Conservative MP Steve Brine, who told the APPG, ‘This is about more than money but also the certainty that our early years sector needs to put the needs of every child at every setting at the heart of their work without having to worry about the future sustainability of those settings or their job in those settings. That’s what we are really about. Despite their status as the fourth emergency service, too many early years settings have actually closed or shed staff in the last 12 months.’ The MPs have written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gavin

Williamson pressing on them to work in partnership in order to address flaws in the funding of early years provision. The APPG is calling on the Government to use the upcoming Spending Review to address funding shortages in the early years sector, including those highlighted by the alliance’s FOI investigation. The group wants a catch-up premium of £2,964 per child per year under the 30-hours entitlement to ensure the early years sector can meet the needs of children and support parents returning to work in order to help drive a post-Covid economic recovery. Petition The findings come as a petition calling for an independent review of childcare funding and affordability has received more than 110,000 signatures. The Government responded to the petition on 23 June, stating, ‘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.’

However, the Petitions Committee has said it will be looking into the issue further and has commissioned a survey of parents and providers.

Meanwhile, on 21 June in the House of Commons, in response to a question from shadow children and early years minister Tulip Siddiq about the FOI investigation and the closure figures, Ms Ford accused her opposite number of ‘scaremongering’.

Ms Siddiq said, ‘Bearing in mind that in this year alone there’s been a net loss of 2,500 childcare facilities in England, will the minister apologise for covering this up, and will she explain to the House how she plans to rectify the very serious problem in underfunding in early education?’

In response, Ms Ford said, ‘We have put an unprecedented investment in childcare in the past decade, over £3.5 billion in each of the last three years. There are always reasons why providers come and go from the register, including mergers and acquisitions. The key thing is whether there are sufficient places for children, and we monitor the market very closely and we are continuing to see that there isn’t a significant number of parents unable to secure a childcare place.’ What do the FOI documents show? Published in 2015, the DfE estimated that the cost of providing a Governmentfunded early years place for a three- or four-year old would reach £7.49 per child per hour by 2020-21, a shortfall of £2.60 per hour based on current average funding rates of £4.89. The documents also reveal that ministers knew the inadequate level of investment proposed would result in higher costs for parents of younger children, and that nurseries, preschools and childminders would be forced to use maximum statutory adult-to-child ratios – despite the impact this could have on the quality of provision.

6 | NurseryWorld | July 2021

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