Nurseries, childminders and pre-schools are facing major financial uncertainty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with many unsure as to whether they’ll still be able to operate next year. This is according to the latest in a series of impact briefs from the Sutton Trust that looks at the immediate effects of the crisis on the early years sector and the children and families they serve.
The report includes new Sutton Trust analysis of polling by the Early Years Alliance of 6,300 early years providers. It finds that at the height of the pandemic in April, two-thirds of early years providers were closed to all children, including 79% of pre-schools, 59% of nurseries and 41% of childminders. Of those that were closed, two-thirds expected to be open again by June, with 20% expecting to still be shut and 15% uncertain about whether they would be able to.
In a separate poll of 604 parents in Britain of children aged 2-4 conducted by YouGov, almost half (45%) of parents felt that their child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing had been negatively impacted by the lockdown, with those whose children were unable to attend their nursery or pre-school most likely to report this.
Among parents working from home without childcare, 65% reported feeling stressed, worried or overwhelmed by the education and childcare arrangements for their child. However, parents in middle class homes were more likely to have received online support from their nursery/preschool than working class parents (31% v 23%).
The early years sector faced financial difficulties before the crisis. But widespread closures due to the coronavirus pandemic has meant that many providers – particularly those in disadvantaged areas – have relied on government support to stay afloat, including through the furlough scheme and business rates holidays. Nurseries and pre-schools in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to have needed a business rates holiday compared to those in the least deprived (35% vs 16%) and almost twice as likely to have utilised small business grant funding (18% v 10%).
As a result of this financial instability, many early years providers say that they may be forced to close permanently, with those in the most disadvantaged more unsure of their future than those in more affluent areas (34% compared to 24% in the least deprived areas). 69% of those in deprived areas expected to operate at a loss over the next six months and 42% anticipated making redundancies (compared to 29% in the most affluent areas).
If many early years providers are unable to stay afloat, there are likely to be repercussions for both children’s early development and learning, and their parents’ ability to access the workforce.
The Trust is making a series of recommendations to support the early years sector and ensure that the most disadvantaged children do not lose out as a result of the crisis. At the heart of these is a package of financial assistance – worth £88m – in line with the support announced for schools in June, which would include:
- Transition funding to protect early years providers in the coming months while they are facing the cost of being fully open, but unlikely to reach full capacity.
- A one-off boost to Early Years Pupil Premium funding for the next year, to support nurseries and pre-schools, particularly those in deprived areas, to provide more direct support for parents in terms of the home learning environment and the healthy development of their children.
According to Maxine Edwards, co-proprietor of Little Jewels Pre-school, “Access to high-quality nurseries and pre-schools is hugely important for all children. This leads to positive language, physical, social and emotional development. It is particularly crucial for children from a disadvantaged background, who may not have access to the same home learning support as those from better-off homes.
Edwards adds, “The report doesn’t specifically address the needs of the Black or BAME communities. Needless to say, African-Caribbean and other BAME parents will suffer disproportionately from the possibility of pre-school closures and access pre-school education.”