The DfE has released figures which reveal a fall in demand for ‘free childcare’ places.
- The number of eligible two-year-olds registered to receive funded early education entitlements has fallen by 13% to 124,500 in 2021.
- The number of three and four-year-olds registered to receive from funded early education has fallen by 5% to 1,212,000 in 2021.
- The number of three and four-year-olds registered to receive from extended early education has fallen by 5% and is now similar to the number in 2019.
The decrease in the number and proportion of children registered to receive funded entitlements reflect the impact of COVID-19 uncertainty on supply (providers) and demand (parents) for early years provision in January 2021.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “These newly released statistics are really worrying, not least because of the substantial drop in numbers of eligible two-year-olds taking up places.
“These are the children who really need to take up high-quality learning and care in order to achieve their potential and reduce the widening attainment gap.
“Although we do believe that the impact of Covid may have resulted in some people deferring their child’s places – which could explain some of the reduction in demand – it is still a trend that could damage children’s development and threaten the sustainability of the childcare market.
“The vast majority of funded places are provided by the private, voluntary and independent nursery sector. Our members have told us there has been a reduction in the numbers of parent-paid children, so if funded numbers have also dropped, they will struggle to remain on a firm financial footing. This could put the whole sector in jeopardy.
“The Government must support parents of the most vulnerable children to make sure they take advantage of early years education and also give urgent financial support to the nursery sector to ensure there are enough places available for all children who want and need them.”
The statistics, in full, can be viewed on the government’s website here.