COVID-19 Impact: Early Years Research Round-up


This week has seen a large number of reports, briefing notes, and campaigns launched to highlight the devastating impact that the coronavirus has had specifically on the Early Years sector in England.

This is based upon research undertaken in the moment as people and organisations try and make sense of the world around them and cannot truly and fully capture the scale of the impact on individual lives and livelihoods; sadly the true cost on children’s development and lost livelihoods might not be visible for years to come.

It can, however, cast a light on what children, families, and Early Years providers have experienced to date and there are some clear strands of knowledge emerging that are of significant concern.

Individually, a research report might be easily dismissed, however, taken in the round, in one week a significant body of evidence has emerged that collectively provides a stark warning that without significant focus, action, and resource, the Early Years sector will be irreparably damaged which will have negative implications on child development, social mobility, employment, gender equality, and the economy; as some of these reports illustrate, it is yet again our most disadvantaged children who will suffer the most.

We call upon the government to take heed of this week’s publications and take immediate action and echo the words of the national campaign launched this week by NCB to put children at the heart of the recovery.

We also ask that any money, guidance, or policy change is underpinned by a commitment to support and sustain well-qualified Early Years professionals who work in high-quality and secure settings – only in this way can we start to redress the situation and effectively rebuild the Early Years sector we need and our children deserve.

Below, we have summarised the findings and key points from the various reports, briefings, and campaigns launched this week.

Financial Fragility of the Early Years Sector and Fears That Significant Providers May Close, Particularly in More Disadvantaged Areas

Early Years Alliance published their report on  The Forgotten Sector based on surveys of over 6,000 providers and over 4,000 parents. In it, they report that “69% of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders expect to operate at a loss over the next six months, while 25% say that it is “likely” that they will be forced to close within the year”.

They also summarise the significant barriers and financial challenges that providers have faced as a result of government policy, and they helpfully provide a detailed analysis by ceeda which shows the significant financial impact of lower occupancy rates that are expected whilst parents choose to keep children out of settings over the coming months; even an occupancy level of 75% would see a setting suffering an average loss of almost £1 per hour for each and every 3&4 year old accessing their universal 15 hours early educational entitlement or the additional 15 hours for working families.

The Disproportionate Impact on Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

The Early Years Alliance survey data also fed into a briefing note published by The Sutton Trust, authored by CREC Directors, Professor Chris Pascal and Professor Tony Bertram, along with Erica Holt-White and Carl Cullinane. They report that approximately one third (34%) of providers in disadvantaged areas do not believe that they will be operating in 12 months’ time due to the financial impact of COVID-19, with a greater number again (42%) believing that they will have had to make redundancies in that period.

In terms of the direct impact on children, ‘many parents reported a particularly negative impact on their child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing, including over half (53%) of those who had been unable to return to their provider.’ The authors went on to state that ’Losing access to high-quality early education is likely to widen already existing school readiness gaps.’

There were also significant issues identified in relation to the health and wellbeing of parents through this period, with ‘65% of parents at home whose child hadn’t returned to their provider by June report[ing] they felt stressed, worried or overwhelmed by their childcare arrangements.’

The Sutton Trust in response has called on the government to make available £88million to the EY sector to provide: transition funding to ensure that there is still a viable sector in existence through, and beyond the pandemic; and an increase in Early Years Pupil Premium funding to match primary age pupil premium in order settings, particularly those in deprived areas, can be encouraged to provide more direct support for parents in terms of the home learning environment.

The Impact on Gender Equality

Pascal & Bertram also reported that ‘Mothers are much more likely to report feeling overwhelmed compared to fathers (30% vs 18%)’ during this period and this chimes with earlier research from the London School of Economics that claimed that women had taken on a greater amount of childcare and homeschooling than men during lockdown.

The Fawcett Society this week took this issue a stage further and connected the potential closure of Early Years providers with the propensity for the role of childcare to fall on female shoulders. They have called upon the Treasury, in a public letter, to provide ‘urgent support for childcare providers, to ensure that childcare is available when parents are able to go back to work’ in order to protect maternal employment.

Interestingly this call has been supported by British Chambers of Commerce; Chartered Management Institute; Institute of Directors; and the Federation of Small Businesses which suggests once again how critical the Early Years sector is to the wider system.

The Conflicted Purposes of Early Years Policy

In a busy week for the Sutton Trust, they also published a Getting the Balance Right report authored by Beatrice Merrick and Nathan Archer of Early Education.

Actually completed prior to COVID-19, it considers recent government policy on early childhood education and care in England, and whether the right balance is being achieved between, on the one hand, supporting child development and learning through high-quality education provision and, on the other hand, raising parental employment through flexible, affordable childcare.

The report suggests that its implementation has undone previous progress made in ‘narrowing the gap’ at end of EYFS and highlights significant concerns relating to workforce quality, and sector sustainability as a direct consequence of its implementation.

Among its recommendations it calls for “eligibility for 30 hours childcare should be extended to all families of 3-4 year-olds currently eligible for disadvantaged 2-year-old provision, which would include those out of work or on very low incomes” which probably has even greater importance where we find ourselves now than when the research was initially undertaken.

Other Significant News…

In case you missed it, other significant announcements for the Early Years sector over the past week or so:

- The government has postponed baseline assessments until September 2021

- The DfE published its response to the EYFS reforms consultation

- They also published guidance for the full reopening of schools and Early Years provision with effect from 20th July

All these things and more are likely to be discussed at our next FREE online Learning Circle Webinar event on ‘Play and Language in Transition’ led by Helen Moylett and Nancy Stewart, scheduled for Wednesday 8th July 2020; to learn more and to book a place  click here.

Related News, Articles and Blog Posts

Nursery closures 'hugely damaging' to young, warns charity | Sally Weale, The Guardian, 1 July 2020

Early Years in Crisis: The Impact of the Pandemic on Sector | Laura Barbour, Sutton Trust, 1 July 2020

Call for £88m in transition funding for early years as a third of nurseries in poor areas face closure | Catherine Gaunt, Nursery World, 1 July 2020

Thousands of essential childcare places could be lost | Tulip Siddiq,, 1 July 2020

Time for change: A letter from Famly’s CEO to the EY Sector | Anders Laustsen, Famly, 1 July 2020

Government EYFS reforms are a backward step | Early Education, 1 July 2020

EYFS: No bubbles rule vital, but huge concerns remain | Neil Leitch, TES, 2 July 2020

If Boris Johnson is really interested in ‘levelling up', he should start with nurseries | Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, 3 July 2020

Choosing welfare over worksheets and care over ‘catch-up’: teachers’ priorities during lockdown | Alice Bradbury & Sam Duncan, UCL IOE Blog, 3 July 2020

Women's careers will suffer most if UK childcare sector collapses, say experts | Nazia Parveen, The Guardian, 3 July 2020

Advice on early adoption of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage | Early Education, 3 July 2020

Ensuring fairer access to early years and childcare provision after the COVID-19 lockdown | Eva Lloyd, Nuffield Foundation, 17 June 2020

Making the early years workforce more sustainable after COVID-19 | Sara Bonetti, Nuffield Foundation, 17 June 2020


Newsletter Sign-up