Dear Ms Ford,
We are writing to you as leaders of representative organisations who work with a range of childcare and early years providers (childminders, nurseries, pre-schools, maintained nurseries and school based settings). We want to set out what we believe will be key to ensuring that childcare and early years education is at the forefront of any plan to support the UK to recover from this pandemic and to ensure children, who have missed so much of their early education this year, are supported to catch up.
As you develop plans to support economic recovery, we are writing to urge you to ensure that the childcare and early years sector is not further put at risk through a lack of government support. We have first-hand knowledge of the concerns and challenges facing the sector and anticipate that for many families, the return to a new normal, will take time.
Phased returns to work or school as well as ongoing anxiety about the risk of a further outbreak of Covid-19, will mean that many families will not require childcare to support their employment in the same way that they did in the past. In many cases parents will also be concerned about their child taking up their free entitlement to early education. This, along with potential changes to regulation and to practice (so that the risk of further infection is reduced) will mean that many registered early years and childcare providers are unlikely to be operating at full capacity for some time.
Furthermore, evidence already exists that approximately 10% of early years and childcare settings are unlikely to reopen after the pandemic and a further 30% are unsure of their future plans. There is a significant risk of a substantial reduction in childcare places just at the point when the economy needs working parents and carers to return to their jobs. It is imperative, therefore, that government sets out now how it will mitigate this risk, by adapting current regulations and requirements; existing funding programmes and establishing transition support. A prolonged period of continued home working for parents whilst also caring for their children is not sustainable, will reduce productivity, and will mean children are further educationally disadvantaged.
All registered early years and childcare settings will need the following to be able to adapt to post-pandemic life and to support and encourage more families to re-engage with early education as well as the wraparound childcare many will need, especially if schools return on a phased basis too.
1) Ensuring continuity funding of early education entitlement from local authorities that reflects previous funding levels over the year as a whole (where children retain their registration with that setting, regardless of the hours they may in reality attend over the coming months). This would need to incorporate an urgent increase to the current level of fee paid so sustained underfunding of the early years sector is finally addressed. This is especially important if fewer families are using childcare with an associated reduction in private fees, Tax Free Childcare payments and universal credit payments, due to unemployment, reduced working hours etc. This will, along with the Transformation Fund detailed below, give settings the time they need adjust to a changed operating environment.
2) Establishing a Transformation Fund so that all early years and childcare settings (including childminders; private, voluntary and independent providers and maintained nursery schools) can apply for a government grant to cover the remainder of this year (up to 31 March 2021); to help them adapt their service if they experience reduced levels of children in attendance. For example, providing funding to help pay for personal protective equipment, additional cleaning etc. This will help settings reassure parents and staff it is safe to return; help ensure their service remains viable and give them the time they need to adapt their business model to meet any new requirements and reduced levels of demand.
3) Extending continued Covid-19 support and addressing the current gaps that are leaving many registered providers with little or no support. Current business rate holidays, the Job Retention Scheme and support for the self-employed have all helped support businesses including early years and childcare through the pandemic. However we remain concerned there are specific issues already raised with government that are impacting now on many providers’ ability to continue to provide their service. These need to be rectified and the current support further extended for childcare and early years as a critical service, until at least September 2020. This will ensure businesses utilising these schemes are not forced into the difficult position of making staff redundant or closing their service because current government support ends in June.
4) Changes to current regulations and requirements that may be temporarily needed to reduce burden on providers and to reflect potential phased returns and/or new operating conditions. Government must develop any changes in close consultation with providers and recognise that if settings need to change how they provide care and early education in a post-pandemic world, this can only be maintained IF providers’ are compensated for reduced attendance levels.
5) Support and CPD to adapt current best practice to support practitioners to change how they work with children and parents (to minimise the risk of further Covid-19 infections) and to develop their business resilience, so they are better prepared for any future pandemics or other major business interruption.
We know you have recognised people who work in childcare and early years are part of our critical public sector infrastructure. Unlike many other public services, the majority of childcare and early years settings are run by private, independent and voluntary providers (PVI). They are different to schools, with many operating 52 weeks a year and relying on both public funding and private fees. Both maintained and PVI providers will need focussed government support to remain part of the UK’s critical infrastructure and to ensure all our children, including the most disadvantaged, are supported to catch up with their education over the coming year.
In light of the above, we are jointly requesting an urgent meeting with you to discuss our proposals to support our sector to play its part in helping the UK’s recovery from the Coronavirus.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA)
Beatrice Merrick, director of Early Education (EE)
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA)