Crisis in the early years as nurseries and pre-schools face closure

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Many early years providers may be forced to close permanently because of the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, with those in the poorest areas hit the hardest.

The latest Impact Brief from social mobility charity The Sutton Trust warns of huge financial uncertainty, redundancies and likely closures.

The analysis includes a poll of 6,300 early years providers showing that at the height of the pandemic in April, two-thirds were closed to all children, including 79 per cent of pre-schools, 59 per cent of nurseries and 41 per cent of child-minders.

The widespread closures have meant that many providers – particularly those in disadvantaged areas – have relied on government support to stay afloat, including through the furlough scheme and business rates holidays.

For example, nurseries and pre-schools in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to have needed a business rates holiday compared to those in the least deprived (35 per cent versus 16 per cent).

As a result, many say they face permanent closure. Again, the impact is felt in poorer areas most, where 34 per cent say they may have to close down compared to 24 per cent in the richest postcodes.

Furthermore, 42 per cent of providers in the most deprived areas are anticipating having to make redundancies (compared to 29 per cent).

The Sutton Trust says that access to high-quality nurseries and pre-schools is “hugely important” as it leads to “positive language, physical, social and emotional development”. The potential knock-on impact of closures on local primary schools is clear to see.

The Sutton Trust adds: “It is particularly crucial for disadvantaged children, who may not have access to the same home learning support as those from better-off homes.”

The charity is now calling for an £88 million package of financial assistance for early years providers in line with the £1 billion support package announced for schools in June. This would, it says, provide transition funding for providers who face the costs of being fully open in the coming months but which are unlikely to reach capacity.

The funding would also pay for a “one-off boost to the early years Pupil Premium funding for the next year”.

Elsewhere this week, a letter has been sent to the prime minister urging financial support for maintained nurseries. Sent by the National Association of Head Teachers, National Education Union and Early Education, it calls for a long-term funding solution to be confirmed – which was promised as part of the 2017 early years funding changes – as well as additional resources and support to meet Covid-19 costs.

The letter states: “We oppose the closure of any of the remaining 389 schools in England and ask that you take a long-term view to ensure we do not lose any more of our indispensable maintained nursery schools, which help and support some of the most deprived families in the country.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT said: “Last week we discovered that maintained nursery schools, along with the rest of the early years sector had been excluded from the government’s £1 billion ‘catch-up’ funding. This decision seems illogical given that it is widely accepted that early intervention is one of the most effective strategies to address gaps in learning. We can be confident that children will be returning to early years settings now and in September needing extra support as a result of their experiences during the current crisis.”

In a separate report this week, The Sutton Trust is warning that progress on closing the “school readiness gap” between disadvantaged children and their peers has stalled. This refers to a measure of the percentage of children achieving a so-called “good level of development” in the EYFS Profile at the end of Reception.

The Getting the balance right report says that having “slowly but steadily decreased” from 2007 to 2017 when it was at 17 per cent. However, by 2019 the gap had reverted to 2015 levels of around 17.8 per cent.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact on the early years sector, with many nurseries and pre-schools facing closure. This will inevitably have a long-lasting impact on children’s early development. Now is the time, when the world has been turned upside down, to prioritise support for children and families. Crucially the government must introduce a package of support to protect early years providers and enable them to stay solvent.”

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