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One in six councils ignore DfE guidance on early years funding

By Rachel Lawlerchild playing toys

One in six councils in England is ignoring the Department for Education’s (DfE) guidance on early years funding that would help to protect providers from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The DfE is providing early years funding to all councils in England based on the number of children who were attending childcare settings in their areas last year.

Local authorities have been instructed to fund providers as though the pandemic had not occurred until the end of 2020, in a bid to protect the sector from the detrimental impact of the virus on occupancy rates.

One in six ignoring guidelines
A freedom of Information request filed by the Alliance to every local authority in England has revealed that of the 120 councils that responded, 20 were not following the DfE guidance.

Seven local authorities said that they were only following it in some circumstances – such as by using last year’s attendance records for pre-schools and nurseries but not childminders.

Three local authorities were sill yet to decide what they would do with this term’s funding.

"Block buying" childcare spaces
The government has previously described the move as: “‘block-buying’ childcare places for the rest of this year at the level we would have funded before coronavirus, regardless of how many children are attending”.

Difficult months
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.

“The government has said that it is ‘block-buying’ funded early years places until the end of the year but as our investigation shows, in many areas, this simply isn’t true as the money isn’t making it to the frontline.

“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.

“It cannot be that councils can simply choose to disregard government guidance, when that guidance has been issued to ensure the sustainability of the early years sector at such a difficult time. As such, we urge the Department to tackle this issue as a matter of urgency and make it clear that it is a requirement, and not an option, for all councils to fund all providers fully and fairly.

“The next few months are going to be difficult enough for the sector – neither central government or local authorities should be making it any harder.”

The Alliance has shared a copy of its findings with the DfE.