15th March 2023

EPI responds to Spring Budget 2023

Dr Kerris Cooper, Senior Researcher at the Education Policy Institute, said:The Chancellor’s expansion of free childcare provision, to include 9-month-olds to 2-year-olds, as well as increasing the amount parents on universal credit can claim for childcare services, and making this available up front, will make childcare more affordable for working families, which is particularly important in the context of a cost-of-living crisis.  However, this targeted focus on working families leaves many disadvantaged children, who would likely benefit the most from high quality early education, behind. Our own research has shown that around 40% of the GCSE attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is established by age 5. If we want to address these inequalities there needs to be a well-funded, high-quality offer for disadvantaged young children too, so that they are not left further behind as working families gain greater access to early education. 

The quality of early years provision must remain a priority for policymakers. We welcome the increase to the funding rate for free entitlement hours, it is vital that the funding government provides is adequate and does not leave providers having to continue to make up any shortfall in funding. Especially with the introduction of additional free entitlement hours, any funding shortfall risks worsening the staffing crisis the early years sector is currently facing, further undermining quality provision for children.”  

“While expanding free childcare provision and better supporting those claiming universal credit are positive developments that will benefit families, unintended consequences could result from increasing child: staff ratios. Increasing the number of children under supervision per staff member seriously risks undermining the quality of care and provision within England’s early years system. The Department for Education’s own evidence shows that among two-year-olds in private nurseries, a lower child: staff ratio is the strongest predictor of overall quality of settings and quality of staff-child interactions.   

“Furthermore, evidence from the childcare sector suggests increasing the number of children per early years’ staff may worsen the recruitment and retention crisis, as well as negatively impact safety and safeguarding. Importantly, the changes are also unlikely to lead to reduced cost for parents. Pursuing a relaxation of ratios in this way risks a one step forward and two steps back scenario for childcare provision in England.”

You can find the Spring Budget 2023 documents here.