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Third of nurseries in most deprived areas may close permanently – report

The Sutton Trust is calling for the Government to provide an £88m support package to the early years sector.

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Many early years settings were closed during lockdown (Martin Rickett/PA)

Many early years settings were closed during lockdown (Martin Rickett/PA)

Many early years settings were closed during lockdown (Martin Rickett/PA)

A third of nurseries in the most deprived areas of England may be forced to close permanently due to coronavirus-related financial difficulties, a report warns.

Many parents are worried that their child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing has been negatively affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, a survey suggests.

The Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to urgently provide an £88 million support package for the early years sector to “protect the early learning prospects of a generation of children”.

It comes after a survey found that a third (34%) of early years settings in the most disadvantaged areas said they were unlikely to still be operating next year, compared to 24% in the most affluent areas.

The poll, of 6,300 early years providers in England, suggests that 69% of those in deprived areas expect to operate at a loss over the next six months and 42% anticipate making redundancies.

There are likely to be repercussions for children’s early learning – and for their parents’ ability to go to work – if many early years settings are unable to stay afloat, the charity’s analysis warns.

A separate YouGov poll, of 604 UK parents of children aged 2-4, suggests that almost half (45%) feel their child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing has been negatively impacted by the lockdown, with those whose children were unable to attend their nursery or pre-school most likely to report this.

Nearly two in three (65%) of parents at home, whose child had not returned to their provider by June, reported they felt stressed, worried or overwhelmed by their childcare arrangements.

The poll suggests that parents in middle-class homes were more likely to have received online support from their nursery or pre-school than working-class parents (31% v 23%).

Nurseries closed more than 14 weeks ago due to the Covid-19 outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.

Government statistics show that only a fifth of children in England who usually attend early years settings in term-time attended on June 25 despite them being given the green light to reopen on June 1.

Early years providers have “suffered significant financial pressures” amid closures and have needed to access Government support, including the furlough scheme and business rates holidays, the report says.

Last month, the Government announced that schools will be given £1 billion to help students catch up, but pre-school children were not included in the announcement despite concerns about the sector.

It is just unacceptable that the early years sector seems to have simply been forgottenNeil Leitch, Early Years Alliance

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact on the early years sector, with many nurseries and pre-schools facing closure.

“This will inevitably have a long-lasting impact on children’s early development. Parents will struggle to find a place for their child. This will affect their ability to go to work. Now is the time, when the world has been turned upside down, to prioritise support for children and families.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA), warned that it was early years settings that serve families most in need of support that “could be hit the hardest”.

He said: “This risks causing significant harm to young children from the most deprived and vulnerable communities, who research has shown can benefit the most from quality early years education and care.

“At a time when the Government is making spending pledge after spending pledge, it is just unacceptable that the early years sector seems to have simply been forgotten.”

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, said the impact of mass nursery closures on the life chances of disadvantaged children was “too awful to contemplate”.

She said: “Urgent support is needed to help early years providers cope with reduced demand and extra safety costs, yet the sector has consistently been ignored.

“The Government needs to wake up to the reality that many thousands of essential childcare places could be lost unless it steps in with a properly funded plan to save the early years sector.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Early years professionals continue to support families at this difficult time and we have been working closely with the sector as settings have opened for all children.

“We are providing significant financial support to protect childcare providers – including through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – and have continued early years funding to councils, worth a planned £3.6 billion in 2020-21.

“We are investing in early years organisations to help them boost disadvantaged children’s development, with grants targeted at improving outcomes for young children at risk of falling behind by age five, and for those with special educational needs.”

PA