Calls for Government action
New research has highlighted the impacts of the pandemic on the use and delivery of early childhood education and care.
The report Implications of COVID for Early Childhood Education and Care in England presents findings from a study funded by the Nuffield Foundation and undertaken by a team of researchers from Frontier, the Centre for Evidence and Implementation, the University of East London, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Coram Family and Childcare.
The work used a survey of Local Authorities, case study interviews and workshops to collect evidence from over 300 parents, providers, Local Authority staff, employer representatives and sector stakeholders. This evidence was combined with analysis of several large national datasets to consider how the pandemic impacts varied across different areas of the county and whether the actions of Local Authorities had helped to support the sector.
The key findings are:
- Children from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds missed more formal early learning than children from more affluent backgrounds. Consequently, there are concerns among early years practitioners that the development gap is widening and that drops in participation by disadvantaged children may become permanent.
- Parents and carers reported enormous challenge of caring for their children with little or no support from early years services, leading to loss of income and adverse effects on mental health.
- Childcare providers had to dip into reserves or take out loans during the lockdowns, leaving them in a precarious financial position and facing new challenges from longer term changes in demand and an unprecedented staff recruitment and retention crisis.
- Local Authorities expanded their role to support provision and help families to access services during the pandemic and some impacts on the sector were lower in areas with greater local support.
The report concludes that national policy needs to be better linked to specific policy objectives to support the three pillars of sufficiency of provision, equity of access and quality of children’s experiences. It also offers a number of recommendations for strengthening the role of Local Authorities to help achieve these goals.
Frontier (Europe) regularly advises clients in the public sector on issues related to early education and childcare policy.
Further reports from the project can be found here.
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