Alliance comments on DfE statistics showing fall in demand for 'free childcare' places

The Early Years Alliance has commented on new Department for Education statistics on childcare and early years, published today, which show that:

  • The number of eligible two-year-olds registered to take up 15-hour early entitlement places has fallen by 13% in 2021
     
  • The number of three and four-year-olds registered to take up 15-hour places has fallen by 5% (the DfE states that take-up is now "the lowest since it was first measured in 2008")
     
  • The number of three and four-year-olds registered to take up 30-hour places has fallen by 5%

The DfE states that: "The decrease in the number and proportion of children registered to receive funded entitlements reflect the impact of COVID-19 uncertainty on supply (providers) and demand (parents) for early years provision in January 2021", adding that the declines may be due to parents delaying registering their children for places as a result of the pandemic.

The statistics are available here: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/education-provision-children-under-5/2021

Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:

“Early years settings have been able to open to all children for over a year now and yet, as these figures clearly show, there is still a long way to go before the sector returns to anything like normal. 

“With the number of children registered for early entitlement places falling sharply compared to previous years as a result of the pandemic, it’s clear that the government’s decision to fund early years providers based on the number of children on roll, rather than on pre-pandemic attendance levels, falls short of the support needed. 

“Add to this the additional pressures of frequent closures due to self-isolation and illness, the additional costs associated with remaining Covid-secure and the long-running challenge of underfunding more generally, and it’s obvious that much more needs to be done to ensure that the early years sector is able to remain sustainable throughout the pandemic and beyond.”