Nursery World’s investigation, based upon local authority responses to a Freedom of Information request about the number of nurseries that closed in the first year of the 30 hours, reveals a varied picture with some areas affected more than others. In some local authorities, the number of nurseries that opened far outweighed the number that closed.
Looking at the number of childcare places available in the local authorities in September 2018 and 12 months prior, for those that had net closures and provided figures, there was less of an impact on places than would be expected. This suggests that the nurseries which closed were smaller settings and/or larger settings opened during the same period.
It echoes comments made by Courteney Donaldson at Nursery World’s Business Summit earlier in the month.
Commenting on the findings, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘The fact that in many areas, childcare provider numbers are falling but overall childcare places remain roughly stable suggests that we are primarily losing smaller providers which, to some extent at least, are being replaced by larger settings entering the sector.
‘While there’s no doubt that larger settings have an important role to play in the childcare market, it’s difficult to see how this type of provision alone can cater for everyone’s childcare needs. Smaller providers are a vital part of many communities, especially in rural areas, and their closure not only means a loss of expertise but a diminishing of parental choice.
‘Clearly this is a very concerning trend, and one that is the direct result of ministers’ indifference towards the childcare funding crisis. Ignoring that issue and continuing to underfund quality provision is no way to run the early years in this country – children, parents and providers deserve better.’
Jo Verill, director of independent early years research company Ceeda, said that the sector is ‘undoubtedly’ experiencing a period of consolidation.
She referred to Ceeda’s annual report which highlights a decline in childcare places in the most deprived areas and an increase in the least-deprived areas.
‘To understand the impact of closures on childcare supply it is necessary to look at places in relation to child populations at local level – the Government’s focus on net changes at national level is both misleading and concerning. In the last two years the average number of childcare places available to children under five has fallen by more than 20 per cent in the most deprived areas of England while the number available to children under five in the least-deprived areas has increased by a third’, Ms Verill explained.
The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said Nursery World’s findings echo their own research into closures, with some areas more badly affected than others.
Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘This is an important investigation into closures across English local authorities and comes as the minister still claims there is ‘no evidence’ of nursery closures being a widespread issue.
‘Each closure is one too many, causing heartache, misery and upset for nursery owners and staff but also the children they care for and their families. It’s time the Government acknowledged that their childcare policy is having a negative impact on many nurseries in all parts of England.’