DfE forced to reveal calculations behind early years funding
Friday, October 25, 2019
Current national funding levels are frozen until 2020, even though nurseries are struggling in the face of rising business rates.
A long-running dispute between a leading early years organisation and the Department for Education (DfE) has come to an end after it was ruled the latter must publish information about how early years funding has been calculated.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is responsible for upholding information rights in the public interest, ruled in favour of the Early Years Alliance after the organisation filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking for the calculations or broader thinking behind current early years funding levels.
The DfE must disclose the requested information by Thursday 14 November 2019.
The current national funding levels, which were first announced in 2015, came into effect in 2017. The Alliance notes they are frozen until 2020, even though costs to nurseries such as increases in national minimum wage and rising rents are putting a strain on providers.
The Government claims the funding rates were ‘frontloaded’ to cover the impact of any delivery costs until the end of the time period.
The FOI requests information on how the Government determined the rates announced in 2015 were sufficient to cover rising nursery business costs until 2020.
The DfE rejected the request on the grounds that the need to keep Government policy private outweighed the public right to know. An appeal by the Alliance was also rejected.
The Alliance then took its case to the ICO, which has ruled the DfE must disclose this information.
Despite the Government pledging an additional £66m for early years funding as part of the spending round in September, the early years research company Ceeda estimates the sector faces a funding deficit of £662m. The new funding announcement therefore only covers a tenth of the deficit.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said:‘We are very pleased that the Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled in our favour and ordered the Department for Education to back up its repeated claims that existing levels of childcare funding are sufficient with actual evidence.
‘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.’
He explained the impact this has had on some nurseries and pre-schools that have been forced to close in the face of funding shortages.
He continued: ‘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.’