New Ofsted data reveals huge regional disparities in childcare place losses

Some areas in England have seen as much as a 25% decline in early years places over the past six years, analysis of new Ofsted data by the Early Years Alliance has revealed.

Ofsted has today (Tuesday 30 November) published data on the number of early years places in each local authority in England as of 31 August 2021, as part of its regular ‘Childcare providers and inspections’ statistics series.

The government has repeatedly rejected concerns over the sustainability of the early years sector by arguing that “the number of childcare places on Ofsted’s early years register has remained broadly stable since August 2015, at around 1.3 million places”.  

However, while it is true that the number of early years places in England overall has remained largely unchanged since 2015, Ofsted data on the number of early years places in each local authority reveals that between August 2015 and August 2021:

  • 70 out of 149* local authorities have seen the number of early years places decline over the past six years (*Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire were not included in the analysis as they were not formed as local authorities in 2015).
  • Of the 10 local authorities with the largest decline in early years places, six are in the South-West:

Local authority

Region

Change in number of early years places

Percentage change in places

Change in number of early years providers

Percentage change in providers

Torbay

South West

-532

-25.1%

-25

-20.5%

Darlington

North East

-525

-20.5%

-38

-28.1%

Isles Of Scilly

South West

-10

-18.9%

-3

-50.0%

Dorset

South West

-1,430

-18.1%

-161

-35.8%

Calderdale

Yorkshire and The Humber

-1,178

-18.0%

-98

-32.7%

Devon

South West

-2,744

-16.8%

-344

-32.6%

Cumbria

North West

-1,339

-15.3%

-148

-33.6%

Cornwall

South West

-1,519

-14.1%

-162

-26.9%

Wirral

North West

-1,134

-14.1%

-109

-28.4%

Somerset

South West

-1,494

-13.6%

-183

-28.5%

In comparison, all but one of the local authorities seeing the biggest increase in early years places are in London:

Local authority

Region

Change in number of early years places

Percentage change in places

Change in number of early years providers

Percentage change in providers

Hackney

London

1,727

33.3%

12

4.7%

Wandsworth

London

2,274

29.9%

-64

-15.3%

Greenwich

London

1,986

29.2%

-54

-10.1%

Tower Hamlets

London

1,156

27.4%

-21

-9.9%

Redbridge

London

1,680

23.5%

-49

-13.8%

Havering

London

1,293

21.8%

-42

-11.4%

Bexley

London

1,244

20.9%

-62

-12.7%

Harrow

London

1,030

19.1%

-48

-16.4%

Rutland

East Midlands

157

18.3%

-10

-22.7%

Haringey

London

842

18.1%

-53

-18.0%

The data also shows that all but one local authority (Hackney) has seen a decline in the number of early years providers operating since 2015.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance:

“Ministers have long argued that because the number of early years places available nationally has remained broadly consistent over recent years, concerns about the sustainability of the sector are unfounded. But as our analysis shows, the government’s decision to focus only on the national picture has masked huge regional disparities.

“It is completely unacceptable that so many areas have suffered not only a huge loss in a number of early years providers operating, but also significant losses in the number of places available. Clearly if these trends are allowed to continue, we will see more and more families in such areas facing far less choice when it comes to early years provision – and in the worst cases, an inability to access any places at all.

“The IFS report on education spending in England published today confirmed what we in the sector have been warning: that even recent increases in early years spending are almost certainly not enough to make up for the substantial increases in costs that providers are facing as a result of wage rises, national insurance contribution increases and other inflationary pressures.

“If the government wants to make sure that all children and families, no matter where they live, can access early education and care, it needs to invest what is needed to ensure that nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings can deliver these vital services.”