Early years providers are struggling to survive, warns Sheffield education chief

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Young children are suffering because early years education and childcare is being neglected by the Government, warns a senior councillor.

Coun Jayne Dunn Executive member for education, says those first few years are critical for a child’s development and childcare is fundamental to the economy but she is worried many providers in Sheffield won’t be able to survive.

She has highlighted the report Closed Doors by Action for Children, which considered children’s centre usage between 2014/15 and again between 2017/18.

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It said: “Despite the importance of children’s centres to many families, their existence is under threat.

“Years of funding cuts have left councils with little choice but to reduce children’s centre budgets. As resources become increasingly stretched, a number of centres have closed. Many of those that remain have been forced to reduce the level of service on offer.”

Coun Dunn will raise the issue at a council meeting next week. She said: “Nationally over 1,000 Sure Start Centres have been lost since 2010.

“Around 12,000 early education and childcare providers have been lost since 2015 and 30,000 more early years providers are at risk of closure within a year.

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“This is the legacy of the Government’s reckless austerity policies targeting cuts at children most in need.

“The sector has also been disproportionately impacted by Covid and, although early years providers were relied upon to enable key workers to continue to work during the pandemic, they received insufficient financial protection.”

Coun Dunn is worried that historical underfunding, increasing costs and the impact of the pandemic will threaten the survival of early years’ providers in Sheffield.

“Sheffield continues to be underfunded compared to other local authorities with the disparity in Sheffield’s hourly Funded Early Learning rate compared to other core cities.

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I’m calling on the Government to address this disparity and provide Sheffield with a fair funding deal.

“There also needs to be additional investment to ensure every child can recover the learning and social development lost in the pandemic and has the chance to reach their full potential.”

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