Ministers accused of ‘covering up’ underfunding of early years education

early years
Support us and go ad-free

A new report by an early years organisation says ministers knew they were underfunding the sector, passing on the costs to parents and driving down quality.

Early Years Alliance (EYA) conducted a two year FOI investigation. The alliance found that the Department for Education (DfE) only gave local authorities two-thirds of the money needed to fully fund early years places for three and four year olds.

Research has previously found that missing out on good quality early years education disproportionately affects disadvantaged children.

Lowered quality

The data EYA obtained from the DfE shows that in 2015 civil servants estimated that funding early years places for three and four-year-olds would cost the government on average £7.49 an hour by 2020/21.

However, an independent analysis by Ceeda concluded that local authorities received an average of £4.89 per hour to fund the scheme.

EYA says that this underfunding leads to lowered quality as early years providers have to provide lower staff to children ratios. According to the alliance, the Early Years Spending Review Scenarios document reads:

We will strip out funding for consumables (food, nappies) – and set an expectation that providers charge parents for these.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

This meant that parents end up paying higher costs for early years childcare.

‘Fair and adequate funding’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of EYA, said:

For years, the early years sector has warned that the so-called ‘free entitlement’ offer is anything but free, in the face of repeated government claims that the policy is adequately funded. These documents, which they spent more than two years trying to hide, prove otherwise.

The early years of a child’s life are critical to their long-term learning and development – and yet ministers have been all too happy to force providers to work to maximum ratios, inevitably reducing quality, in order to save the Treasury some money.

Leitch called for a full review of UK policy concerning the early years sector, and for ‘needed’ investment. He added:

Only with fair and adequate funding will we ensure nurseries, pre-schools and childminders can continue delivering the quality, affordable care and education that children and families both need and deserve.

A spokesperson for the DfE said:

We’ve made an unprecedented investment in childcare over the past decade, spending more than £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on our free childcare offers and increasing the hourly rate paid to councils above inflation for the past two years.

Through our early years funding formula, which we introduced after consultation with the sector, councils must pass on the vast majority of the funding they receive for the three and four-year-old entitlements. The number of childcare places available for parents in England has remained broadly stable since 2015, and we are not aware of any significant issues for parents in accessing free places – we work closely with councils to ensure this remains the case.

The DfE added that EYA’s figures predate them increasing payment rates for early years settings. Additional investment was announced by the chancellor in both 2019 and 2020.

Calls for change

The report follows a petition calling for an independent review into childcare affordability and funding. The petition has received over 100,000 signatures, and is waiting on a date for debate in parliament.

According to Early Education, more than a third of maintained nursery schools are cutting services and staff after losing income from coronavirus (Covid-19) and lack of funding certainty. Maintained nursery schools are controlled and funded by local authorities, but specialise in 3-5 year olds. They are led by headteachers.

Maintained nursery schools reported losing an average of over £70,000 income, as well as spending £8,000 more for costs related to coronavirus.

Labour has condemned the government for the knowing underfunding of early years providers. Tulip Siddiq, shadow minister for children and early years, said:

The Tories owe parents an apology for this betrayal and for covering it up.

Featured image via YouTube/E Patonwas

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. The case for significant investment in early years education – and, by ‘early years’ I mean from birth – is well known and has a greater effect of subsequent achievement than investment in any other stage of education. To be fair to Blair and Brown, this was something in which they invested substantial funding, but failed to make the argument forcibly and also undercut it by adopting the baleful “Woodhead” inspection regime.

      As far as the Tories are concerned, they know the benefits of early years investment, but wilfully choose NOT to do so, because the current formula for funding favours the later stages of secondary education and this stage has a disproportionate representation of the more affluent social classes. Less affluent groups tend to leave school education in greater numbers at the earliest possible opportunity.

      By the introduction of ‘academies’ and the associated selection, despite trying to sanitise the term, greater amounts of funding go to schools with a more affluent intake.

      The ‘academies’ are also a legacy of the Blair/Brown years, with their mendacious ‘triangulation’.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.