Early years attendance levels continue to be lower than pre-Covid

Katy Morton
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The latest Department for Education (DfE) statistics show that the number of children attending early years settings continues to be lower than it was before the pandemic.

Around 697,000 children were attending childcare on 16 September, which continues to be lower than the usual attendance rate
Around 697,000 children were attending childcare on 16 September, which continues to be lower than the usual attendance rate

The DfE estimates that on 16 September, 697,000 children were attending childcare -  about 54 per cent of the number that usually attend settings during term time.

However, due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis, the DfE said it would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection.

On a typical day in the autumn term the department said it expects attendance to be 912,000, due to different and part-time patterns of childcare during the week. It estimates that the 697,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 76 per cent of the usual daily level.

The DfE has been collecting data on early years attendance since April 2020 on a weekly, and until the summer, on a fortnightly basis. It originally planned to end data collection at the end of the summer term, however, after reviewing the ‘needs of a range of users’, it says a decision was made to continue collecting and publishing data on a monthly basis for the rest of the year.

Views will be sought on future plans towards the end of the autumn term.

The National Day Nurseries Association said the figures were ‘very concerning for children’s learning and nursery sustainability’.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku explained, ‘With current attendance at almost half of what it should be, these statistics show that early years providers will be facing very challenging situations this term and beyond into the winter months which is why we want to see this underfunding addressed urgently. The Government must start investing truly in children’s futures.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said the statistics were a 'timely reminder that things remain far from normal for the sector'.

He explained, 'While we welcome the DfE's decision to continue collecting this data, we remain concerned that the decision to measure attendance, rather than occupancy, means that we have no idea of the extent to which families have reduced the number of days or hours they take up. At a time when the sector is crying out for greater support, more detailed data on changing occupancy levels would provide a much clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on early years businesses.'

School figures

The same data includes figures for school attendance, and show that 92 per cent of pupils were in state-funded schools on 16 September.

Attendance in primary schools was 93.5 per cent.

The NAHT union said that the figures reflect the latest changes to Government policy relating to self-isolation when there is a positive case.

General secretary Paul Whiteman warned however that the ‘figures mask some significant issues arising at local level’, and that it is crucial central and local government are on ‘high alert’ and ‘ready to react quickly’ if and when cases rises rapidly or outbreaks occur.

Commenting on the figures, the education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said, ‘My priority is to make sure children are in school and back to face-to-face learning. That’s the best place for them to be so it’s fantastic to see more than 91 per cent of them back in the classroom with their teachers and friends, compared to 87 per cent this time last year.

‘As education secretary, I will be working closely with school leaders and everyone working in education to keep children learning and help them catch-up through our National Tutoring Programme.’

  • The latest statistics are available here 

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