Time for a sector-led manifesto for early years?

Withdrawal of council run nurseries, steep falls in Early Years Pupil Premium spend, drops in the take up of disadvantaged 2 year old places and the re-opening of inequality gaps in reception year achievement: the 2019 annual report from Ceeda’s influential About Early Years research programme paints a troubling picture for disadvantaged communities.

Revealing more detail on the £662 million funding gap facing the sector this year, the report digs behind the headline figures and shows:


  • 38% of providers in deprived areas are making a loss, but it’s tough in affluent neighbourhoods too, where 23% of settings are also in the red.
  • Single-site operators struggle to achieve the economies of scale possible in larger operations, 55% make a profit compared to 72% of settings in groups of six nurseries or more.
  • Quality costs – hourly delivery costs for 3 to 4 year olds average £5.85 in settings with 80% or more staff qualified to level three or above, falling to £4.58 in settings with fewer than 40% of staff at this level.
  • Spend on the Early Years Pupil Premium has fallen by 40% since 2015/16.
  • Spend on disadvantaged 2 year old places has dropped by almost a fifth since 2014/15, with take up of places sliding to 68% in 2019.
  • The safety net of council run provision is disintegrating, local authorities have withdrawn 226 nurseries from the early years register, of which 71% were based in deprived areas.
  • Schools deliver just 14% of disadvantaged 2 year old places, as settings struggle with the funding freeze, who will be left to pick up the pieces in areas where PVI supply fails?


On the workforce front, sector pay remains uncompetitive despite an average rise of 4% over the last year, fuelling recruitment and retention challenges as well as in-work poverty for childcare staff.

Practitioner pay averages £8.74 per hour compared with average rates of £8.91 for cleaning and bar work, £9.61 in sales roles and £11.86 in administration and secretarial jobs.

On a more positive note, level three awards are starting to recover following the reinstatement of functional skills as acceptable alternatives to GCSEs, with latest in-year figures down just 5% on the same period in 2012. This good news is tempered by a fall in apprenticeship starts, which have seen a downturn of 8% since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.

With election promises coming thick and fast what will the future hold for the early years sector in 2020 and beyond? We will be costing election pledges as official manifestos are released. Register for our newsletter to get the latest updates.

But why stop at reading party manifestos? Why not come together with the sector and share your own ideas about policy solutions that could work for every child, deliver best value for the Treasury, support a thriving sector and give the early years workforce the status and pay they deserve?

We invite you to join us in the #TheBigEYdebate, on 23 January in central London and at regional venues to be confirmed. With a new Government in place, and no doubt new promises to deliver, there will be lots to discuss.

Download the About EY Annual Report free of charge HERE

Find out more about #TheBigEYdebate HERE 

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