Funded childcare offers to continue during coronavirus closures
By Rachel Lawler
The chancellor has confirmed that funding for the government's 'free' childcare offers will continue to be paid to local authorities during any closures related to the current coronavirus outbreak.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said that it expects local authorities to pass on the funding to providers.
The government has also announced that planned increases to the Ofsted registration fees, due later this year, will no longer go ahead.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Millions of parents rely on childcare and the vital service provided by nurseries, childminders and preschools. Making sure that young children can be cared for safely so that their parents are able to work where required is of the utmost importance now more than ever.
"In recognition of this, we will continue to pay for all free early years entitlements places, even in the event that settings are closed on the advice of Public Health England, or children are not able to attend due to coronavirus, and we will not be asking for funding back from local authorities."
Vicky Ford, children and families minister, added: "I want to thank all the early years practitioners who day-in and day-out do such an excellent job. I know these must be difficult times and I hope these announcements show that we are listening to their concerns and taking urgent action.
"I particularly want to thank the Early Years Alliance, the National Day Nurseries Association, and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years for their engagement at this critical time."
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “We know that many early years providers are incredibly concerned about the financial impact that both closure and child absence due to coronavirus would be likely to have on their settings. As such, we warmly welcome clarity from the DfE that local authorities are expected to continue to pay ‘free entitlement’ funding in such instances, following representations from the Alliance and the wider sector.
“That said, we would be keen to see the DfE to strengthen this guidance and make it clear that local authorities must, rather than, should pay ‘free entitlement’ funding in instances where settings are forced to close due to coronavirus or children are absent due to coronavirus-related illnesses or self-isolation. This would ensure that there are no instances where councils can choose to disregard this advice, leaving providers in those areas facing severe financial challenges.
"We are also very conscious that for many providers, ‘free entitlement’ funding only makes up a proportion of income and that loss of parental fees is likely to have a significant financial impact as well. As such, we continue to call on government make available some form of contingency funding for such settings.
"Nevertheless, this news is undoubtedly positive and we hope it will go at least some way to providing some reassurance to providers in these incredibly difficult times."