Agenda item

2021-22 Childcare Sufficiency Assessment

To provide an update on the 2021-22 Childcare Sufficiency Assessment to be submitted to the Executive Member and subsequently published on the Bracknell Forest Council Website, as required by the authority’s statutory duty to secure sufficient childcare.


The Forum considered a report which presented the 2021-22 Childcare Sufficiency Assessment (CSA), to be submitted to the Executive Member and subsequently published on the Bracknell Forest Council Website, as required by the authority’s statutory duty to secure sufficient childcare.


Cherry Hall explained that this was a complex assessment as numbers of providers and of children typically fluctuated over the course of the academic year. Last year had been particularly challenging due to the pandemic. However, the Early Years team at Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) were keen to continue to improve the quality of the data collected.


The CSA showed that the Borough continued to have sufficient childcare for the under 5s (indeed, it was confirmed that there was a surplus of childcare places in some areas). The numbers of individual children accessing funded places had decreased during 2021 but the overall number of hours had increased. This may have been due to changes in working patterns. The CSA also attempted to look at wrap-around care (before and after school childcare) but it was difficult to get accurate data for that. Some settings would have found it difficult to provide breakfast and after-school clubs, especially whilst trying to operate bubble systems. This remained a changing picture and further work was needed to understand the ongoing impact. However, it appeared that wrap-around care needs had lessened. It was also important to look at what changes there had been to what provisions had been operating. The Early Years team at BFC continued to help providers to understand opportunities in the market and how to operate and remain sustainable. There had been no group provision closures in the early years provision, but it was possible that closures may occur in the future. The Early Years team at BFC had been actively promoting childcare in the Borough.


Sue Butler was invited to speak as the Early Years representative on the Schools Forum. Sue Butler expressed that she agreed with everything Cherry Hall had said and that she was proud of the Early Years team at BFC and all the support they had provided.


The Forum noted that the population projections showed a decrease after 2020; however, more houses were due to be built. The Forum queried what the numbers were based on. Cherry Hall replied that all predictions were based on ONS (Office for National Statistics) data as they were the best predictions available. The new housing was not currently generating children.


The Forum asked what the impact was of the College Nursery closure. Cherry Hall explained that the money had been invested in a new 0-2 room based in a council building which had opened in September. This covered not only the cohort from the College Nursery but provided additional places. The nursery was not yet full, but this was not unusual for the first term of a new provision.


Karen Davis, as a Primary School representative on the Schools Forum noted that there were data gaps for school-based childcare and asked whether there was anything that primary school providers could do to help with that. Cherry Hall responded that she would take that question back to the Early Years team at BFC and would then discuss with Karen Davis.


Regarding early years vacancies, the Chair calculated that the percentage of vacancies in the summer term was about 12 to 13%. Given that summer terms were typically the fullest terms, the Chair felt that must mean that autumn and spring terms had even higher vacancies and questioned how sustainable that was. Cherry Hall expressed that was a difficult question and was known to be an issue. Some providers changed their staffing numbers on a termly basis, but they needed to look at their business models over the whole year. Sue Butler added that, over the academic year, their budgets would generally balance. They typically offer lots of temporary contracts and increase staffing as and when numbers of children increase. However, there was always lots to do to get through the autumn term and funding levels didn’t cover the increase in costs. If this situation continued, the PVI sector in early years would cease to exist within three to four years. Lots of childcare owners had second jobs as nurseries did not provide the income they needed to live. Although there was optimism amongst providers about the potential increase in base rate funding, the concern was that this would not match the increase in the cost of living, especially as the sector had already been heavily under-funded. Cherry Hall had provided the information available to the Early Years Forum but could not provide more detailed information until that was released by the DfE. To aid budget planning, the proposed key principles to be used in setting the Early Years budget would be presented at the next meeting of the Schools Forum with final budget proposals reflecting confirmed DfE funding decisions expected to be available in January.


Action: Paul Clark


The Chair highlighted that there were 255 children resident outside of the Borough attending BFC early years provision and asked whether BFC met the costs of those children. Cherry Hall confirmed that was the case and added that she had been working out with our closest neighbours how many BFC children were going across border for their early years provision. This data was not yet available. The Chair added that this linked to the School Places Plan.


The Forum thanked Cherry Hall and her team for all their work on providing the CSA.


RESOLVED to NOTE the 2021-22 Childcare Sufficiency Assessment.

Supporting documents: