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New Ofsted data reveals childcare place disparities

By Rachel Lawlerchildren playing on the floor early years provider

New analysis of data from Ofsted has shown huge disparities in the number of earl years places available.

Some areas of England has seen a 25% decline in the number of early years places in the past six years, according to new analysis from the Alliance.

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, this latest 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 saw the number of early years places decline in 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)
    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%
    Dorset South West -1,430 -18.1% -161 -35.5%
    Calderdale Yorkshire and The Humber -1,178 -18% -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%


  • Of the 10 local authorities with the largest decline in early years places, six are in the South-West, while 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 -27.7%
    Haringey London 842 18.1% -53 -18%

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “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.”