Last year's attendance figures will decide distribution of childcare funding

Early years childcare funding will be distributed based on 2019's attendance figures, to avoid punishing schools and other providers that saw a “small fraction” of normal attendance because of Covid-19.

In England, children aged three and four are entitled to 570 free hours of childcare per year from an approved nursery, playscheme, school, agency care worker or other provider.

Some are entitled to more, or earlier, childcare.

In a report for Telford and Wrekin’s Schools Forum, Group Accountant Tim Davis explains that the funding, given by the local authority to the childcare provider, is usually based on a headcount of eligible children, but the Department for Education is recommending January 2020 figures be used next year because the coronavirus may still be depressing attendance next spring.

He adds that the council has aimed to distribute “a similar amount of funding” this autumn term as it did in the same period in 2019.

The Schools Forum will discuss Mr Davis’s report when it meets tomorrow.

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Mr Davis writes: “Local authorities are usually funded for early years provision based on numbers of children attending the settings using the free entitlements at the January census.

“The January census is used as it represents the middle census in the academic year and thus tends to have an average number of children attending, given that each term a further cohort of children turn three and thus become eligible for the free entitlement.”

He says the funding for each financial year is usually based on a combination two years’ January figures. For example, the 2020-21 total would be based on January 2020 and January 2021.

“However,” Mr Davis adds, “because there is a possibility attendance at settings in January 2021 will still be lower than usual due to Covid-19, the DfE will, this year, fund the autumn term using January 2020 census numbers.”

He adds that, in the 2020 summer term, funding was distributed on the basis of estimated eligible child numbers, “given that, in most cases, the numbers of children attending were a small fraction of normal numbers”.

DfE guidance says, for the autumn term, local authorities should continue “at broadly the levels they would have expected to see had there been no coronavirus outbreak”.

He says Telford and Wrekin Council’s aim this term has been “to distribute a similar amount of funding to providers overall as in autumn 2019” and “fully fund additional hours” where providers have seen in increase in children but reduce the rate given for “ghost pupils” – those who attended in 2019 but were absent this year.

Mr Davis adds that the DfE has yet to confirm arrangements for the spring.

The default would be to return to the previous system, but “the DfE’s final decision will, presumably, be based on the national situation and the degree to which normal attendance is taking place”.

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