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DfE refuses to release childcare funding information after ICO ruling

By Rachel LawlerCalculations DfE ICO ruling appeal early years funding

The Department for Education (DfE) has lodged an appeal against the Information Commissioner Office’s (ICO) ruling that it must publish the information it holds on how current early years funding rates were calculated.

The Alliance called the decision “shameful”, as the DfE confirmed that it was lodging an appeal with the First Tier Tribunal, which deals with appeals against ICO decisions.

Last month, the DfE was told that it must publish the information, following a Freedom of Information request from the Alliance filed in December 2018.

Information request
The Alliance had asked the DfE to share:

  • the calculations or broader thinking underpinning current early years funding levels
  • proof that the national early years funding rates set by government in 2015 – which came into effect in 2017 and were frozen until 2020 – were calculated as being enough to cover rising business costs over that time period.

ICO ruling
The DfE initially refused to share the information, arguing that the information formed part of its policy development and that the need to keep it private outweighed any public interest in releasing it.

The ICO ruled against the DfE and it was told to publish the data before 14 November – the DfE's appeal means that the data will no longer be released today.

"Shameful" decision
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “The Department for Education has always flatly rejected concerns that childcare funding levels have failed to keep up with rising costs, and continues to claim that it is investing more than enough into the early years sector. All we have asked for is proof that this is indeed the case. The fact that the DfE is going to such extreme lengths not to release this information surely begs the question: what have they got to hide?

“The early years sector in England is reaching a crisis point. Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country are finding it impossible to make ends and, as a result, are being forced to increase parent fees, restrict funded places and, in a growing number of cases, close down altogether.

“The Department for Education clearly has some serious questions to answer about its childcare policy – but rather than taking this as an opportunity to prove once and for all that its approach to early years funding has been fair and adequate, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money trying to hide information that should be available to all.

“This is a shameful decision by the government, and one we urge them to reconsider."

Election pledges
The news comes as childcare is becoming a key talking point in the upcoming general election. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have announced plans to extend the existing childcare offer.

The Conservative party has yet to confirm any childcare policies, but it is rumoured to be considering extending the existing offer.

Find out more
DfE must published data on funding rates