Government survey reveals half of nurseries and childminders fear closure

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Around half of England’s childcare providers told the Department for Education in the summer they would be unable to survive financially for another year, a survey on the impact of Covid-19 shows.

The DfE survey carried out in July asked childcare providers about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on attendance, workforce, and finances
The DfE survey carried out in July asked childcare providers about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on attendance, workforce, and finances

The figures come from research commissioned by the DfE for its Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers and Covid-19.

Carried out between 9 -16 July by NatCen Social Research and Frontier Economics, the online survey, which has just been published, found that just 45 per cent of nurseries and pre-schools and 55 per cent of childminders open at the time predicted that they would be able to remain financial sustainable for a year or longer.

In total, 4,012 providers participated in the study: 396 school-based providers, 1,368 group-based providers, and 2,248 childminders.

Providers were asked about their operating models, expectations for September, attendance, workforce, finances, and financial sustainability.

The report authors said it was important to note that the survey took place before the Government’s announcement on 20 July that local authorities would continue to be funded for the Autumn term at broadly the levels they would have expected to see in the 2020 autumn term had there been no coronavirus outbreak, ‘which may or may not have influenced how open GBPs  [group-based providers] or open CMs [childminders] may have responded to this question. Furthermore, it is likely that providers answered this based on parent demand and child attendance in July, which has since increased’.

The latest official attendance figures, published today, show that on 22 October there were an estimated 770,000 children attended early years childcare settings – about 59 per cent of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time. 

However, on a typical day in the autumn term the DfE said it would expect attendance to be 887,000, due to different and part-time patterns of childcare during the week.

Sector organisations have reiterated their call for emergency funding for the sector.

The Early Years Alliance said the figures were ‘stark’, pointing out that if a Government report showed that half of schools would be forced to close by next summer there would be ‘an outcry’.

Commenting on the findings, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said the report showed the ‘damage’ done to the sector by the pandemic.

The NDNA said that at the time of the survey nurseries and pre-schools were reporting attendance levels of around 50 per cent, but their parental income was just over a third of what was expected.

‘Low demand was the main concern over the summer but now with infection rates rising it is the impact of positive cases and delays in accessing tests which is worrying parents and providers, ‘ she said. ‘Higher operating costs at a time where settings are facing reduced demand and potential temporary closures is simply not sustainable without further financial support. 

‘Childcare is essential for our economic recovery and providers have been on the frontline of supporting their communities, they should be supported along with other businesses. We need to see urgent support to the sector to ensure children and families can access high quality early education in childcare settings.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, ‘For months, we have been warning the Government that without greater support, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country could be forced to close as a result of the pandemic - and now we have the Department for Education's own research saying the very same thing.

‘What more evidence does the Government need before it accepts that urgent action is required if we're going to have any chance of preventing the sector entering a full-blown crisis? If government research suggested that half of all schools would be forced to close by next summer, there would be an outcry. The idea that any minister can look at figures as stark as this and do nothing absolutely beggars belief.

‘Research study after research study has shown that quality early education is absolutely critical for children's long-term learning and development. Add to this the vital role that providers play in delivering the care that so many parents and families across the country rely on, and it's clear that safeguarding the future of the early years sector simply must become a top government priority, before it's too late.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said,
'Little has changed for most early years and childcare providers since this research was conducted in the summer. They are still coping with lower than normal occupancy levels; frequent closure due to suspect Covid-19 outbreaks – all adding to the sustainable concerns we have voiced to Government for months.

'With the furlough scheme about to change and no certainty on how future funded entitlement payments will be made to providers, we know that childminders, nurseries and pre-schools needs additional sector specific support to help them through this pandemic.'

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, said, ‘The Government has now confirmed what we’ve known for some time – the childcare sector is on the brink of collapse.

‘Our economy will not be able to recover from Covid-19 if families can’t get childcare, so targeted support for the early years sector is urgently required to prevent a wave of nursery and childminder closures.

‘Working families, young children and the brilliant early years workers who support them must not pay the price for this Government’s incompetence.’

In a statement, the Department for Education said it would continue to provide extra security to nurseries and childminders that are open by “block-buying” childcare places for the rest of this year at the level it would have funded before coronavirus – regardless of how many children are attending.

  • The Department for Education research report, Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers and COVID-19, is available here

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