Alliance wins data victory on DfE childcare costs report

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Research carried out for a DfE review into the costs of childcare has finally been published a year after a Freedom of Information request from the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

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Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, which has won a ruling against the DfE

The early years organisation has criticised the data as ‘flimsy’ and says that it is ‘shameful’ that it took the Information Commissioner’s Office to step in before the research was published.

The Alliance sent several requests for the research to be published only to be rebuffed by the DfE, which claimed that the information was owned by Deloitte, which it had commissioned to do the work. The first FOI request was sent on 12 January 2016.

The Government carried out a six-month long review into the cost of childcare in 2015 to inform decisions about early years funding rates, ahead of the introduction of the early years national funding formula and the 30 hours of free childcare to three- and four-year-olds.

Deloitte undertook the primary research to support the DfE to understand and model the costs of delivering childcare for the review.

The Alliance says that it had expected the Deloitte research to be robust and methodologically sound with detailed breakdowns of provider costs, given that it has been used to determine early years funding rates that will be used until 2020.

But just 282 responses were received from a survey sent to 1,821 childcare providers from a  list supplied by the DfE – only a 15 per cent response rate.

In addition to the survey, Deloitte also followed up with interviews with 24 childcare providers.

However, while the Review of the Cost of Childcare was published in November 2015, the Deloitte research, which focused on the cost pressures facing early years providers, was never published, but frequently cited in the report.

The Alliance's request through the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of the research in January was rejected by the DfE on the grounds that the information was held by Deloitte, not the Department. An appeal by the Alliance was rejected on the same grounds.

But in November the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the Department to respond to the Alliance’s request.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said, ‘We have long argued that the Government’s Cost of Childcare review was a woefully inadequate basis on which to calculate new early years funding rates, and the publication of the Deloitte data has only reinforced these concerns.’

Instead of ‘a robust, methodologically sound piece of data- gathering’ with a detailed breakdown of provider delivery costs, he said the research was based on ‘a very small, non-random sample of providers who have been presented with a set of very broad, poorly-worded questions asking them to estimate their delivery costs, with no specific guidance as to what these estimates should include.

‘How can anyone in government think this is an adequate approach to information-gathering?

‘It’s little wonder that it took over a year and the intervention of the ICO for the Department to release this data.’

The Alliance said that it was even more of a concern given that the other main source of delivery costs was the departmental surveys from 2012 and 2013, that would be five years out of date by the time the 30-hour offer rolls out in Spetember.

Mr Leitch said that the decisions the Government has made on early years funding have a significant impact across the sector, and providers have the right to know – and to have the opportunity to interrogate – what those decisions have been based on.

‘We hope that this is the last time we have to take such an approach with the DfE, ’he added.

In response, the DfE said that wherever possible, the review used publicly available data to inform its analysis including research commissioned by the Alliance. These evidence sources were set out in full in the published review.

Where there were some evidence gaps, the Department used the Deloitte research to fill them, which they said was relatively small-scale and was only one part of Deloitte’s work to support the DfE.

A DfE spokesperson said, 'Our record funding investment is based on our Cost of Childcare Review – the most comprehensive analysis of the childcare market ever conducted – which was described as "thorough and wide-ranging" by the National Audit Office.

'This research from Deloitte was just one of several pieces of evidence, including the CEEDA research commissioned by the PSLA themselves. We are investing a record £6billion in childcare per year by 2020 and our new fairer funding system will mean the vast majority of providers will see a funding increase for delivering the free entitlement.'

  • The data consists of a Deloitte survey questionnaire, a spreadsheet of the survey responses – with some redactions where the DfE deemed there to be information that could identify respondents – and a summary of responses to follow-up interviews. It is available to view at www.pre-school.org.uk/deloittedata.
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