Some early years support teams cut by half, survey finds

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The number of local authority specialist advisers for early years services has been cut by more than 50 per cent in some areas in England, new research suggests.


Beatrice Merrick says that local authority cuts are leading to a postcode lottery in early years advisory services

The extent to which specialist support for all early years settings, childminders, schools and practitioners now varies widely is revealed in responses to Freedom of Information requests made by members of Early Education.

The findings show that the local authority advisory support that previously existed for early years providers is no longer universal.

The survey draws on a random sample of local authorities based on where Early Education has members. It shows that there are LAs both cutting heavily and increasing early years support in different parts of the country.

Eleven local authorities were asked about the number of staff on their early years teams in 2009 and 2014.

In eight of the LAs questioned there had been a reduction in full-time equivalent posts among early years advisers.

In Essex an early years team of 117 five years ago is now 52, a cut of 56 per cent, while Oxfordshire’s team has been cut by half.

The most extreme example was found in Herefordshire where just four full-time equivalent early years staff remain, compared to a team of 41 central early years staff in 2009. There is one business support officer who provides administrative support to the team, in addition to other teams in the Children’s Wellbeing Directorate.

However, the survey also reveals that some LAs are investing in their early years teams. Waltham Forest now has 82 early years staff, in contrast to 55 in 2009.

The LAs surveyed were also asked about the number of free training courses that were offered by early years teams in 2012-13 compared to those on offer in 2009-10.

Ten of the LAs questioned have made cuts to the number of free courses they offer.

In Essex courses have been cut by 70 per cent. In Herefordshire just five e-learning courses were offered free in 2012-13. Any other courses had to be paid for. This contrasts with 2009 when 122 different courses were provided free, not including network, leaders and managers and moderation meetings.

In Southwark all training remains free. Childminders must pay £175 for pre-registration training, although they can claim the money back from a grant once they are registered.

Early Education says that the findings show that while some local authorities understand the need to protect spending on high quality early years provision others have made cuts.

In Waltham Forest, which has increased early years teams, and Southwark which has lost just one staff member in five years, more than half of children on free school meals achieve a good level of development at the end of the EYFS, according to Ofsted's annual early years report, published last month.

The charity says that this shows the value of investing in early years support.

In February Early Education launched a campaign to challenge local authorities on the cuts being made to maintained nursery schools and children’s centres.

Chief executive of Early Education Beatrice Merrick said, ‘We know that local councils are facing incredibly tough decisions. What we are seeing is that some councils are managing to keep cuts to early years to a minimum, including some of those which perform best in getting disadvantaged children to a Good Level of Development by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

‘This underlines the importance of investing in early years. All the evidence tells us that high quality early education pays off in terms of future personal, social and economic gains. That’s why we have been urging all candidates in the May local elections to support our Early Years Pledge.’

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