DfE ordered to publish early years funding calculations

Neil Puffett
Friday, October 25, 2019

The Department for Education has been told to disclose details of how it calculates early years funding levels by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) following a lengthy freedom of information dispute.

Current national funding rates for the childcare sector were first published by government in 2015 and came into effect in 2017. They are used by councils to calculate the rate they pay early years settings to deliver government-funded childcare provision.

There have, however, been ongoing concerns that childcare providers are not receiving enough to cover their true costs, with early years research company Ceeda estimating that the early years sector in England is currently facing a funding deficit of £662m.

The government has previously claimed that funding rates were "frontloaded", when calculated in 2015 to cover the impact of any delivery cost increases experienced by childcare providers up until 2020.

In light of this, the Early Years Alliance made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for details of precisely how the rates were calculated in 2015.

Responding to the request, the DfE confirmed that it holds relevant "spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation", but rejected the FoI request on the grounds that the information formed part of the development of government policy and that the need to keep it private outweighed the public interest in releasing it. An appeal by the Alliance was rejected on the same grounds.

However, the ICO has now formally rejected the DfE's argument and ordered it to disclose the withheld information by Thursday 14 November.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: "Since 2015, when the government set the current national early years funding rates, the sector has endured a whole range of business cost increases - not least substantial rises in the national living and minimum wages - which have put significant financial pressure on providers already struggling to stay afloat.

"Week after week, we are seeing more and more nurseries, childminders and pre-schools across the country being forced to shut their doors as they simply can't cope with the ongoing lack of adequate funding, while many of those who remain open can only do so by charging parents extra to make up for the funding shortfall.

"The government has always claimed that increases in costs like wages, rents and business rates were factored into the childcare funding levels when they were originally set. All we are asking for is proof that this was indeed the case, and it is disappointing that we were forced to appeal to the ICO in order to obtain this information.

"We hope that the DfE will now make this information available to us without any further delay."

A DfE spokeswoman said: "We want every child to have the best start in life, which is why we are spending around £3.5bn on early education entitlements this year and plan to spend over £3.6bn on these offers next year. We are aware of the ICO's decision and are considering our response."

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