Number of children attending early years settings remains lower than normal

Kathy Oxtoby
Friday, September 24, 2021

Early years attendance levels continue to be lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest DfE statistics show.

Around 697,000 children were attending childcare on 16 September, the DfE estimates -about 54 per cent of the number that usually attend during term time.

However, the DfE said it would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day the data was collected because many children attend early years settings on a part-time basis.


Attendance: around 76 per cent of the usual daily level

Typically, in the autumn term the DfE said it expected attendance to be 912,000, because of the different, and specifically part-time, patterns of childcare during the week. The department estimated that the 697,000 children attending early years settings is about 76 per cent of the usual daily level.

In April 2020, the DfE began collecting data on early years attendance. The department had intended to stop data collection at the end of the summer term. However, following a review of the ‘needs of a range of users’, it was decided that data would continue to be collected and published every month for the rest of this year.

Towards the end of the autumn term, views will be sought on future plans.



‘Very concerning’ figures

Commenting on the new data, Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: ‘These latest attendance figures for early years are very concerning both for children’s learning and nursery sustainability.


‘Our youngest children have already missed out on so much over the past 18 months. Analysis by Nesta earlier this month showed that over the last year, children have had an average of seven fewer hours a week of formal early education and care as a result of Covid.


‘With current attendance at almost half of what it should be, these statistics show that early years providers will be facing very challenging situations this term and beyond into the winter months, which is why we want to see this underfunding addressed urgently. The Government must start investing truly in children’s futures,’ she said.


‘Timely reminder’

Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said that with one in five fewer children accessing early care and education compared to before the pandemic, the new statistics were ‘a timely reminder that, while many lockdown measures have now been removed, things remain far from normal for the sector’.

‘While we welcome the DfE's decision to continue collecting this data, we remain concerned that the decision to measure attendance, rather than occupancy, means that we have no idea of the extent to which families have reduced the number of days or hours they take up. At a time when the sector is crying out for greater support, more detailed data on changing occupancy levels would provide a much clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on early years businesses,’ he said. 


  • The latest statistics are available here 

Keep up to date with Early Years!

Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with Early Years education, process and events! We promise we won't spam you!