More than 11,000 childcare places lost through nursery closures – research


The number of nursery closures in England increased by more than a third during the height of the pandemic compared to the same period the previous year, new analysis by the National Day Nurseries Association reveals.

The research – based on closures reported directly to the NDNA, its membership database, and publicly available information – has been released as evidence ahead of a debate in Parliament tomorrow on the impact of Covid on new parents and childcare.

Based on the information available for analysis, the findings show that  232 nurseries closed between 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021. The report says this is a 35 per cent increase on the previous financial year when 172 nurseries closed.

According to its analysis, the NDNA says the number of closed nurseries equates to a loss of more than 11,000 childcare places.

However, that figure is based on available data, which only covers 167 of the 232 closures.

‘With data not available for the remaining 65 settings the true figure of children’s places affected will be much higher,’ the report said.

The report, Nurseries and the impact of closures in the first year of the pandemic, finds that a greater proportion of closures were in the most deprived communities with 13 per cent in postcode areas classed within the 10 per cent most deprived in the country.

The research, carried out at the end of March also reveals that:

  • Closures took place in areas with the lowest funding rates. 38 per cent of closures were in areas receiving the lowest funding rate of £4.38 in 2020/21.
  • More than a third of closures (34 per cent) were in the top 30 per cent deprived areas.
  • Almost three quarters (72 per cent) were in areas with a funding rate of £5 or less per hour.
  • Ofsted’s Early Years Register showed a net reduction of 3,025 providers across all categories from 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021. In this 12-month period Ofsted data shows a net loss of 442 nurseries and pre-schools from Ofsted’s Early Years Register.

Regional variations

Source: Nurseries and the impact of closures in the first year of the pandemic, NDNA

A breakdown of closures into regions shows that 21 per cent of all closures were in London, with the next highest region being the South East with 17 per cent of all closures. London and the South East combined accounted for 38 per cent of all closures during the height of the pandemic.

Nursery owner Alison Dyke who recently had to close her outstanding nursery Pathfinders in the West Midlands, said, ‘Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have invested huge amounts of time, effort and our own money to “prop up” the business for the sake of the families using the service and to ensure that we maintained an exceptional quality of care and learning opportunities for the children and families at our nursery.

‘The physical, emotional and financial demands of running a nursery in the current climate have become too much.’

The NDNA is calling for urgent action from the Government including investment to support nursery sustainability, ensuring early years funding supports the delivery of high quality early education through the Comprehensive Spending Review and simplifying the funding system for both parents and providers.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, ‘Year after year we have seen nurseries and childcare settings struggle to make ends meet on the funding they receive from Government. Now we are seeing that the pressures of the pandemic have been the final straw for even more nurseries.

‘Children have already missed out on so much through this pandemic, those in nursery have spent large parts of their life under lockdown conditions, the last thing they need is the upheaval of their setting closing. Early years has to be the foundation of the Government’s education recovery plans if we are to avoid a lost generation of young learners.

‘We are extremely worried that the highest proportion of closures took place in the most deprived areas of England where the children are most in need of the high quality early education and care these nurseries deliver. Without this best start in life, the attainment gap will continue to widen.

‘Government statistics show that even now in the busiest summer term, only 58 per cent of children are currently in nursery. This means nursery businesses have lower than usual income to cover higher operating costs. The latest Government figures show a shocking drop in the take up of two year old places, demonstrating just how much ground there is to make up.

‘The latest 1.2 per cent increase in hourly rates for children’s places did not even cover the statutory increases to National Minimum and Living Wage levels.

 ‘Without targeted financial support, many more nurseries will face closure, a heart-breaking decision for staff, children and their families.’

Ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn, NDNA are looking at how nursery places are funded and how childcare providers have been impacted through a short survey

The Petitions Committee debate takes place tomorrow (14 July).

Case study

Alison Dyke, who has run nurseries for 17 years, closed a nursery in April

‘We had to make the difficult decision to close Pathfinders Nursery at Easter following 17 years in childcare, previously owning Nature Trails @ Crescent

‘Among the reasons which contributed to our closure included the emotional and physical demands of running a nursery. This is exacerbated by the private nursery sector being disrespected and undervalued by the Government which does not support their work in a meaningful way.

‘We have been consistently paid low funding rates but with rising costs. There is a lack of Government support – it’s too little, too late.

‘Then we also had to cope with the effects of the pandemic – not all parents accepting retainer fees, hardly any grant support (it took a lot to get what we did), bubbles shutting down, staff: child ratios. We had to work throughout the pandemic despite taking a step back from duties. 

‘We have always loved working in a sector that gives daily reinforcement of the joy of caring for and educating young children and are very sad that the sector is treated like second-class citizens, despite all that we have done to support the economy and families – we are disrespected and undervalued. 

‘The rewards of running a PVI nursery are not worth the effort or toll it has taken on our free time, finances or health.’

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