London Councils undertook a survey with London boroughs to investigate the key issues in relation to early years and childcare across the capital. Respondents completed the survey in November and December 2017, and responses were received from 26 boroughs.
The survey was split into the following areas: Budgetary pressures on local authorities; maintained nursery schools; provision for disadvantaged children; 30-hour entitlement for 3 and 4-year-olds with working parents; and quality of practitioners.
The key findings from the survey were as follows:
- Early years budgets are under significant pressure across London. Almost half of London local authorities were forced to make savings in financial year 2017/18, and over two thirds will need to make savings in 2018/19 (many on top of last year’s cuts).
- These savings have resulted in London boroughs being forced to cut staff numbers in early years teams, reduce the training offer and support provided to PVI settings, and provide fewer back office resources to support the effective implementation of the 30-hour entitlement than necessary.
- The new hourly rate paid to providers for delivering places for 3 and 4 year olds (introduced in April 2017), and the 30 hour entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds with working parents (introduced in September 2017), are already having an unintended impact on the availability of places for the most disadvantaged 2 year olds in London. Over half of London boroughs have already seen, or are forecasting, reductions in 2 year old places as a result of one of both of these policies.
- Maintained nursery schools are valued by local authorities for their quality; the places they provide for disadvantaged children and those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities; and their systems leadership. 13 out of 18 London boroughs with at least one maintained nursery thought that these settings would be likely to close if their ‘transitional funding’ was not continued after 2019/20.
- Out of the 10 boroughs offering discretionary additional childcare for the most disadvantaged 3 and 4-year-olds until April 2017, only 1 borough answered that they will be in a position to continue to provide this offer. The findings highlight that the majority of these children would not benefit from the 30 hours offer.
- The 30-hour childcare offer for working parents is increasing the burden on local authorities, at the same time as early years staff numbers are reducing. All of the boroughs that responded to the survey had noticed an increase in enquiries and administration as a result of the introduction of this policy; for the majority, this increase was between 50% and 75%.
- 24 out of 26 boroughs are ‘slightly concerned’ or have ‘significant concerns’ about the quality of Level 3 early years practitioners locally.