London's under-fives risk falling behind due to pandemic

Under-fives in the capital who miss out on nursery during the Covid-19 pandemic are at risk of falling behind unless work is done to ensure they can bridge the gap in their education, a new report by London Councils warns.

London boroughs are concerned about the damaging impact that missing out on early years education could have on children's personal, social and emotional development and wellbeing.

London Councils’ report describes how early years providers such as nursery schools and childminders accelerate learning for infants and give them experience of independence and social interaction, ensuring they are on track to start primary school.

This is especially important for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to start school without key early learning skills.

There is a further worry - early years providers have been affected by Covid-19 too, experiencing lower attendance and income which have put their businesses in jeopardy.

London Councils’ report found that in 20 London boroughs, many providers are concerned for the future of their business, particularly smaller providers serving more disadvantaged communities.

London Councils is determined to work with Government and providers to ensure young Londoners continue to receive the best possible start - an early years education that boosts their development, ensures they realise their full potential at school and improves their life chances overall.

The umbrella group has created a Five Point Plan with recommended actions for national and local government:

  1. Central government to ensure there is sufficient interim funding to protect the sector from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
  2. Central government to devolve unspent allowances for disadvantaged 2 year olds to local authorities to increase take up
  3. Central government to allocate unspent allowances for tax-free childcare to local authorities to support local early years provision and home learning
  4. Central government to guarantee long term funding for Maintained Nursery Schools
  5. London local government to promote the benefits of early years education to families

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, London Councils’ Executive member for Schools and Children’s Services, said:

“London’s children are facing massive disruption to their early education because of the Covid-19 pandemic. If we do not act now, this could have serious consequences when they start primary school and beyond, especially for children from more deprived communities. Nobody wants to see children not being ‘school ready’ and failing to catch-up as they get older.

“London Councils’ new report outlines a five point plan for local and national government that will reduce the impact of the turbulence of the past year on these children.

“We have recommended protecting existing nursery budgets by using last year’s headcount figures, as well as announcing long-term funding plans for maintained nursery schools to give them future certainty.

“Devolving unspent allowances to local government would also ensure money already committed to early years is not lost when it is most needed. We propose investing this funding in local initiatives to reach out to families with young children and improve attendance, as well as further supporting childcare and nursery providers at this challenging time.”

To read the report in full, click here.


Notes to Editors:

  • As part of this report, London Councils undertook a survey of London borough Heads of Early Years to investigate the key issues relating to early years and childcare across the capital. 26 boroughs completed the survey in September and October 2020. Focus groups were held in November and December 2020.
  • Many boroughs have concerns for those children deprived of early education for an extended period, and the impact this may have on children's personal, social and emotional development and wellbeing. This was echoed in findings of an Ofsted study of provider concerns in October 2020.
  • Boroughs have raised considerable concerns about children from disadvantaged backgrounds falling behind having missed out on vital early years education – losing key support for their development at a crucial point in their young lives with long term implications for their attainment and outcomes.
  • There remains a gap in attainment between some children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers which is evident when they are as young as 5 years old. In London, in 2018/19, only 63% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) achieved at least the expected level across early learning goals in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, measured at age 5, compared to 75% for pupils who are not eligible for FSM. Attainment gaps that open up before schooling begins continue to widen throughout the school years. Education Policy Institute research found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds were over 4 months of learning behind their peers in reception year. This gap increases to 9 months by the end of primary school and 18 months by the time they take their GCSEs.
  • The Early Years Alliance (EYA) is reporting that 26% of the London providers it surveyed in May 2020 think it is unlikely that they will still be operational in a year’s time[v] and boroughs are reporting similar concerns. When London Councils surveyed boroughs in September 2020, 20 boroughs reported that many providers are concerned about future sustainability, particularly smaller providers serving more disadvantaged communities. One borough found that 60% of providers have accrued debts as a consequence of Covid-19, 69% expect to operate at a loss over the next 6 months, and 51% are considering redundancies.
  • Boroughs raised concerns about the loss of flexible, affordable providers, particularly in areas with higher levels of deprivation. This could have a considerable impact in terms of widening inequalities if children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less able to access early education – holding back their development and leaving them at risk of falling behind their peers.


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