Overall Sector Numbers Decline Over Covid Year

Overall Sector Numbers Decline Over Covid Year

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the childcare sector. Although the furlough scheme along with other elements of financial support meant that the majority of businesses were able to weather the crisis and re-open, data from Ofsted now suggests that this was far from universally true. Since between 1st April 2020 and 31st March 2021, over 3,000 settings have closed, of which 1,800 were childminders. This represents a decline of around 4% of the total size of the sector, and twice the closure rate seen in 2019.

While these figures are a real cause for concern, not just for struggling businesses, but for those concerned with the welfare of the children they serve, it is important that they are interpreted correctly. The childcare sector has been undergoing a long period of change in which childminder numbers in particular have been declining year on year for much of the past decade, meanwhile the trend in the non-domestic sector has been towards larger settings catering to more children at once. Tellingly, despite the closures, the number of places available has remained static. This suggests that where businesses have been forced to close, others are available to take on their children.

None of which is to suggest that declining numbers should not be seen as a warning sign, or that childcare businesses struggling to survive should not have their needs met. Childcare is at its best when there is a wide variety of provision available and trying times can shift markets towards bland homogeneity. After-all, it does not matter if the number of places available is sufficient in principle if in practice parents cannot find local provision or if the quality of care starts to suffer. Moreover, given just how much of themselves childcare providers give to their businesses, it is critical that every setting is given a fair chance to thrive.

As the country recovers from the pandemic, change is natural and to be expected, but a lot of work will be necessary to ensure that it is for the better.

Ofsted’s report can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/childcare-providers-and-inspections-as-at-31-march-2021