A Freedom of Information request shows several councils in England are not adhering to government guidance on early years funding.
Many local authorities in England are ignoring government guidance instructing them to fund childcare providers as if coronavirus wasn’t happening until the end of the year, according to the Early Years Alliance.
The figures are the result of a Freedom of Information request and follows Department for Education guidance that councils should pass on early years funding to all councils in England based on the number of children who were attending childcare settings in their areas last year, rather than the number attending this year, until at least the end of 2020.
According to the guidance, councils are expected to fund nurseries, pre-schools and childminders “broadly the levels they would have expected to see in the 2020 autumn term had there been no coronavirus outbreak”.
After receiving a number of reports from childcare providers of councils who are not doing this, the Alliance filed a FoI request to every local authority in England, asking if they were basing the funding being given to early years providers this term on child attendance numbers from last year.
Of the 120 councils [out of 343] who responded, 20 (17%) stated that the were not following this guidance. A further seven (6%) stated that they were only following the guidance in some circumstances, such as funding nurseries and pre-schools based on last year’s childcare attendance numbers, but not childminders, while three (3%) were yet to decide.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “It is simply unacceptable that so many local authorities have disregarded the DfE guidance on early years funding during this critical time – and more importantly, that they have been allowed to do so…
“We have been contacted by many providers who had budgeted and planned on the basis of the government’s reassurances that their funding for the autumn term wouldn’t be affected by the pandemic, only to find out at the last minute that this isn’t the case. For many, this could be the difference between surviving the next few months, and being forced to close their doors.”
He is urging the Government to step in and clarify that councils must pass on the funding.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “As this survey highlights, the vast majority of councils are passing on full government funding to early years providers. A minority have taken decisions locally to distribute funding differently, for example, to support those who are struggling the most following the lockdown or to provide additional support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
“The concerns raised by the Early Years Alliance, however, serve to further demonstrate the issues we have long been raising about funding rates for early entitlements being insufficient, which left many providers in a precarious financial position even before the pandemic. We are calling on the Government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to fully fund the early entitlements, and to provide an urgent injection of funding to support those providers most at risk of failure due to the pandemic.”