Week 5 2021

Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

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Introduction

A summary of attendance in education settings from Monday 23 March to Thursday 28 January (excluding out of term dates as data not collected) and early years settings from Thursday 16 April to Thursday 28 January. The data covers England only. 

This publication provides a high-level summary of estimates from the Department for Education's education settings survey and local authority early years survey. Further data at national and local authority level is available in the underlying data.

These statistics have been produced quickly in response to developing world events. In May 2020, the Office for Statistics Regulation, on behalf of the UK Statistics Authority, reviewed them against several key aspects of the Code of Practice for Statistics and regarded them as consistent with the Code’s pillars of Trustworthiness, Quality and Value.

Absence rates for ‘teaching assistants and other staff’ for the period 12 October to 17 December were corrected on 28 January.

An error was identified that affected national level absence rates for ‘teaching assistants and other staff’ published in underlying data table 1D and included in the narrative of the 19 January publication. This data, including the 19 January narrative, were corrected on 28 January.

The corrected data shows that teaching assistants and other staff have broadly similar absence rates to teachers and school leaders. A full list of affected measures and further detail about the cause of this error is available in the methodology. Data used by government as management information (as set out in the ‘data sharing’ section) was unaffected. We have contacted known users of this data directly to alert them to this correction.

We take the issue of data quality very seriously and we would like to apologise for this error. 

Expansion of publication content in future releases

We will publish local authority level summaries for future dates on a half-termly basis. 

Data sharing

Data collected from the Education Settings Survey is shared as management information across national and local government for operational purposes. As part of the data share we explicitly highlight that the information is for internal purposes only and should not be shared more widely. The limitations of the data, which include variables with missing values, responses not being validated or issues being thoroughly investigated are highlighted to ensure recipients are aware that decisions should not be made in isolation and the risks of making conclusions based on the data alone. We engage with local users to try to prevent the data being shared inappropriately. Where we identify misuse of the data we work with those in receipt of the data to understand how it happened and to reduce the likelihood it will happen again.

Information shared across government includes variables that we have made a conscious decision not to share more widely at the present moment for a number of reasons including the quality of the data which could misinform or confuse users, however, they may provide useful insight for operational purposes, particularly at a local level.

The department is continuously reviewing what and how information collected from the survey is disseminated and we will endeavour to publish data at the earliest opportunity.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

From 5 January, schools were asked to provide on-site education for vulnerable children and children of critical workers only. 

State-funded schools

Data from Monday 11 January to Thursday 28 January is available in the underlying data. This commentary usually compares Thursday-to-Thursday. Here the commentary compares Thursday 28 January to Thursday 21 January.

Open rates

  • On 28 January, 99% of state-funded schools were open to children of critical workers and vulnerable children. This is higher than March to May 2020, when schools were previously asked to open only to children of critical workers and vulnerable children. Around 80% of schools were open in May 2020.

Pupil on-site attendance

  • Approximately 15% of all pupils on roll in state-funded schools on 28 January we in attendance, up slightly from 14% on both 13 and 21 January. Pupils not attending on-site should receive remote education.
  • Attendance on 28 January was 22% in state-funded primary schools, 5% in state-funded secondary schools and 33% in state-funded special schools. Attendance has increased in primary and special schools, where attendance was 21% and 30% respectively on both 13 and 21 January. Attendance in state-funded secondary schools remained the same.
  • Approximately 36% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 28 January, up from 35% on 21 January and 34% on 13 January.
  • Approximately 43% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 28 January, up from 41% on 21 January and 40% on 13 January [1].
  • Approximately 850,000 children of critical workers were in attendance on 28 January, up from 813,000 on 21 January. This represents 70% of all pupils in attendance. Note that this figure excludes children of critical workers attending school due to being identified as a vulnerable child.

Workforce on-site

  • We estimate 38% of teachers and school leaders were working on-site in open state-funded schools on 28 January, up slightly from 37% on 21 January. This figure was 49% in primary schools, 23% in secondary schools and 61% in special schools on 28 January.
  • We estimate 52% of teaching assistants and other staff were working on-site in state-funded open schools on 28 January, up slightly from 51% on 21 January. This figure was 58% in primary schools, 37% in secondary schools and 58% in special schools on 28 January.

Workforce absence data from 11 January has been published for the first time - see the ‘Workforce in state-funded schools’ section and underlying data table 1E.

Early years settings

  • The early years local authority survey continues on a weekly basis. We estimate 626,000 children are currently attending early years childcare settings on Thursday 28 January – about 42% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time [2]. Due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis, we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. On a typical day in the Spring term we expect attendance to be 1,052,000, due to different and part-time patterns of childcare during the week [3]. We estimate that the 626,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 59% of the usual daily level.

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[1]  Pupils with a social worker are considered ‘children in need’. Our analysis after adjusting for non-response suggests that schools may be under-reporting the number of children with a social worker when compared to the most recently published children in need statistics. Therefore these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools. Schools report on the form how many children with a social worker (SW) they have on roll. Our analysis suggests that the total number of children with a SW differs by at least 30% compared to published figures for children with a social worker. This means our attendance figures for pupils with a social worker are likely to overestimate attendance.

[2] The number of children in term time was estimated using outputs from the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019 and ONS National Population Projections: 2018 based. 

[3] LAs are asked to send attendance in EY settings on a typical day of the week. We have calculated normal expected daily attendance based on estimates of the average number of days a child spends in formal childcare on any given day, using the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019. For further details please see the methodology section. 

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Background

Between March 2020 and the end of the summer term, schools were asked to limit attendance to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). The timeline is summarised below:

  • From Friday 20 March 2020, in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the government asked early years settings, schools, and colleges to close to all children except those of critical workers and those classified as vulnerable.
  • From 1 June, the government asked schools to welcome back children in nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside children of critical workers and vulnerable children from all years. Early years settings were also asked to begin welcoming back all children from 1 June.
  • From 15 June, secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges were asked to begin providing face-to-face support to students in year 10 and 12 to supplement their learning from home, alongside full time provision for students from priority groups. Primary schools were given the flexibility to bring back pupils in other year groups, where they have space to do so.
  • By 17 July, most schools and colleges had closed for the summer holiday. Ordinarily, fewer early years settings are open and fewer children are in attendance during school summer holidays. This is due to reduced demand for childcare and the closure of term-time only and school-based settings.

In the 2020/21 autumn term, all pupils, in all year groups, were expected to return to school full-time.

Ahead of the start of the 2021/21 spring term, the Government asked schools to make the following arrangements for week commencing 4 January:

  • Primary schools to provide on-site education to all pupils from their first day of term, except those in areas where contingency framework guidance applied. In areas affected by the framework, primary schools were asked to provide on-site education for vulnerable children and children of critical workers only.
  • Secondary schools to provide on-site education to vulnerable children and children of critical workers only in week commencing 4 January.
  • Special schools to provide on-site education for all pupils, however they were given flexibility to phase return of pupils.
  • Alternative provision to provide on-site education for all pupils.

On 4 January, the Government asked schools to provide on-site education for vulnerable children and children of critical workers only from 5 January. Settings were not required to complete the educational settings survey between 5-8 January while it was changed to reflect these new arrangements. The survey reopened on Monday 11 January.

Education settings survey

To help understand the impact of these decisions, the Department for Education (DfE) established a survey of schools and colleges in England. Schools and colleges are asked to report information to DfE each day.

The education settings survey was open between 23 March and 17 July 2020 and then reopened on 1 September 2020. The survey questions were changed on 1 September 2020 to reflect the expectation that all schools should prepare to open to all pupils. Additional changes to questions were made on 12 October 2020, detailed information on these amendments can be found in the methodology.

Local authority early years survey

To help understand the impact of these decisions, from 6 April 2020, the Department of Education (DfE) asked local authorities (LAs) to regularly report to the DfE information on the number of children in attendance, including the number of settings open or closed. The focus of this survey was narrowed to early years settings from 16 April. 

The early years local authority survey continues on a weekly basis. Ordinarily, fewer early years settings are open and fewer children are in attendance during school summer holidays. This is due to reduced demand for childcare and the closure of term-time only and school-based settings. Some children returned to early years settings on week commencing 31 August, with many more returning on week commencing 7 September.

The volume and percentage of children in attendance from 10 September is not directly comparable with the previous data points due to a break in the time series. The number of three-year-olds eligible for funded childcare, and therefore attending early years settings, increases through the academic year. Attendance in settings decreases in the autumn when children move to reception. For more details on the break in the time series, please see the methodology section. 

Data coverage

This data release includes data from the education settings survey from 23 March to 28 January (excluding out of term dates as data was not collected) and early years settings from 16 April to 28 January. 

The narrative in this document focuses on Thursday 28 January for education settings and early years settings.

Data for education settings is included in the underlying data from Wednesday 9 September because this was the first time fewer than 1% of schools reported inset days since the survey reopened on Tuesday 1 September.

Non-response adjustment

Education settings survey

Non-response adjustments made to published figures from 9 September 2020 are summarised here. For the non-response adjustment methodology made to published figures from 23 March to 16 July 2020, see the July 21 publication. Non-response adjustments have not been made to local authority level data, see the ‘Attendance by local authority’ section for more information.

The response rate among state-funded schools was 87% on 28 January. Open rate and attendance figures for state-funded schools in this release are adjusted to account for those that did not respond to the survey.

Methodology in 2020/21 autumn term

The methodology used from 9 September assumes that state-funded schools that did not respond were no more likely to be closed, ask pupils to self-isolate or have lower attendance than responding state-funded schools. This follows analysis of response patterns, data collected from a sample of non-responding schools, and comparison with data collected through regular phone calls between DfE and local authorities to identify any closed schools. Figures for state-funded schools have been weighted to take account of differences in response rate between different school types.

To reflect the number of local authorities that were on half-term, adjustments were made to the methodology for figures between 19 and 23 October and 2 November.

Response rates among state-funded schools fell on 17 December by 7 percentage points compared to the previous day. Some schools reported inset days or non-COVID related closures on 17 December (1% of responders). Schools are not required to complete the form if on a planned holiday, such as Christmas break and, previously, decreases in response rates have been associated with an increase in school closures. As a result, it is likely there is a greater proportion of closures among non-responders than responder and we do not know the distribution of these between i) COVID-related closures and ii) schools starting Christmas holidays or having inset days as planned. Therefore, estimates for 17 December are less reliable than previous days and likely over-estimate open and attendance rates. Comparisons within the commentary here made here with Wednesday 16 December instead. Data for 17 December is still available in the underlying data.

Methodology in 2020/21 spring term

The methodology used from 11 January assumes that state-funded schools that did not respond were no more likely to be closed to vulnerable children and critical worker children or have lower attendance than non-responding schools.

This follows analysis of response patterns and data collected from a sample of non-responding schools to identify any closed schools. This found that up to 10% of non-responding state-funded primary schools and state-funded special schools were closed, compared to less than 1% and around 1% of responding schools respectively. Adjusting for this would reduce open rates for these school types by up to 1 percentage points, but would have a negligible impact on attendance rates (less than 0.5%) given high response rates (over 80%) and relatively low attendance rates. Therefore, no adjustments have been made at this time but we will continue to review the non-response methodology. Figures for state-funded schools have been weighted to take account of differences in response rate between different school types.

Response rates for independent schools are lower than other settings (less than 60%) and, following review of a sample of non-responding independent schools, we found non-responding independent schools were more likely to be closed than responders. Figures for independent schools have not been adjusted to account for this response bias and are presented based on responding schools only.

Local authority early years survey

For the local authority early years survey, figures for the number of settings open and closed and the number of children attending for those LAs which did not respond are estimated based on the proportions reported by LAs which did respond. The national estimate comprises reported figures from LAs which did respond combined with these estimates (see the methodology section). From 1 June onwards, this methodology has been revised to take into account the wider opening of early years settings.

Open status for state-funded schools

  • 18,800 state-funded schools [4] responded to the survey on 28 January. This represents 87% of all state-funded schools. All figures for state-funded schools in this release are adjusted for non-response, more information can be found in the Methodology section of this release.
  • 99.4% of state-funded schools were open on 21 January to children of critical workers and to vulnerable children, up from 99.0% on 21 January. This compares to 98.5% of schools open on 16 December and approximately 80% in May 2020, when schools were previously asked to open only to children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

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[4] All figures are for state-funded schools. State-funded schools are primary, secondary, special schools and alternative provision. Further education colleges, post-16 special institutions and independent schools are not included in these figures, however estimates for these settings are included in the ‘Open status and attendance by type of school or college’ section of this publication.

Attendance in state-funded schools

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January 2021 only children of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people should attend school or college. All pupils in special schools and alternative provision are eligible to attend as vulnerable children. All other pupils and students should receive remote education. Pupils who are self-isolating should not attend school and clinically extremely vulnerable pupils are also advised not to attend school.

  • During the 2020/21 autumn term, the average on-site attendance in state-funded schools was 86%. Following the restriction of on-site attendance to vulnerable children and children of critical workers, on-site attendance dropped to 14% in state-funded schools on 21 January and increased slightly to 15% on 28 January. Pupils not attending on-site should receive remote education.
  • Attendance on 28 January was 22% in state-funded primary schools, 5% in state-funded secondary schools and 33% in state-funded special schools. Attendance is higher than March to May 2020: on-site attendance was approximately 4% in state-funded primaries, 1% in state-funded secondaries and 8% in state-funded special schools in May 2020.
  • Among open primary schools, 7% reported less than 10% attendance, 37% less than 20% and 99% less than 50%.
  • Among open secondary schools, 90% reported less than 10% attendance, 99% less than 20% and almost 100% [5] less than 50%.
  • Among open special schools, 2% reported less than 10% attendance, 18% less than 20% and 82% less than 50%.

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[5] Note that this figure is rounded to the nearest percentage point and a very small proportion (less than 0.5%) of secondary schools reported attendance over 50%.

Vulnerable children in state-funded schools

The definition of vulnerable children and young people includes children who have a social worker, an education, health and care plan (EHCP) or who may be vulnerable for another reason at local discretion. Schools are expected to allow and strongly encourage vulnerable children and young people to attend and parents/carers of vulnerable children and young people are strongly encouraged to take up the place. 

Attendance of pupils with an EHCP and pupils with a social worker is ordinarily lower than other pupils [6].

  • Approximately 36% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 28 January, up from 35% on 21 January. For context, when schools were open to all pupils attendance of pupils with an EHCP was 75% on 16 December.
  • Approximately 43% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 28 January, up from 41% on 21 January. For context, when schools were open to all pupils attendance of pupils with a social worker was 76% on 16 December.  Pupils with a social worker are considered ‘children in need’. Our analysis after adjusting for non-response suggests that schools may be under-reporting the number of children with a social worker when compared to the most recently published children in need statistics [7]. Therefore these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools.

Critical worker children in state-funded schools

Parents whose work is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and EU transition response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors. Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school if required. This includes parents who may be working from home. 

  • Approximately 850,000 children of critical workers were in attendance on 28 January, up from 813,000 on 21 January. This represents 70% of pupils in attendance. Note that this figure excludes children of critical workers attending school due to being identified as a vulnerable child.

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[6]  The attendance of pupils with EHCPs and children in need is typically lower than for other pupils. In the 2018/19 academic year, the overall absence rate was 8.7% for pupils with a statement of SEN or an EHCP and 11.4% for children in need see Pupil absence in schools statistics and characteristics of children in need statistics  publication for more information. There are some differences in the calculation of these figures and our estimates that affect comparability.  See our methodology for more details.  

[7] Statistics: children in need and child protection Schools report on the form how many children with a social worker (SW) they have on roll. Our analysis suggests that the total number of children with a SW differs by at least 30% compared to published figures for children with a social worker.

Workforce in state-funded schools

Workforce on-site attendance

Under the national lockdown, the expectation is that everybody should work from home where possible. School leaders are expected to determine the workforce that is required in their school, taking into account guidance for staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable. Where possible, it is expected that those staff not working on-site will work from home.

  • We estimate 38% of teachers and school leaders and 52% of teaching assistants and other staff were working on-site in open state-funded schools on 28 January. This is published by type of school or college in the section ‘Open status and attendance by type of school or college’.

Reasons for workforce absence

Interpretation of workforce absence data

The purpose of this data collection is primarily to understand attendance and teacher availability. This data is reported directly by schools via DfE's daily education settings survey. It is not the primary source of data on infection, incidence and COVID-19 cases overall. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an analysis of the number of school workers who have had COVID-19 within their Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey publication on 6 November. Rates of cases and isolation are affected by levels of testing

From 5 January, schools were asked to provide remote education for the majority of pupils which enabled many staff to work remotely. Therefore data on reasons for workforce absence were collected where staff are unable to teach on-site or remotely from 11 January. This means that staff who have a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus or who are self-isolating but can work remotely are not counted as absent in these figures. In the 2020/21 autumn term, when schools were asked to open for all pupils, data on reasons for workforce absence were collected for all staff unable to work on-site. Therefore, figures from 11 January are not comparable to data on workforce absence collected in the autumn term. 

Despite the change in the data collection, it is possible that some schools have continued to report COVID-related absences for affected staff who are working remotely in the same way as the autumn term. We therefore advise caution in interpreting these estimates, particularly when broken down in greater detail than set out below.

Since January, lateral flow devices have been provided to all schools and schools.  Workforce who are on-site can be offered access to two rapid results tests every week. Rates of confirmed cases and self-isolation among workforce may be impacted by levels of testing.

Staff in schools with higher levels of pupil attendance may be less able to work remotely. Teaching assistants and other staff include staff who are essential to the running of schools such as administrative, catering, cleaning and maintenance staff, midday supervisors and technicians. These roles may be more difficult to carry out remotely, which may explain why these staff have both higher rates of on-site attendance and higher rates of staff unable to work on-site or remotely in primary and secondary schools.

Workforce unable to work on-site or remotely
  • We estimate 2% of teachers and school leaders and 3% of teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were unable to work on-site or remotely on 28 January for COVID-related reasons. COVID-related reasons include a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus or self-isolation due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.
  • We estimate 4% of teachers and school leaders and 6% of teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were unable to work on-site or remotely for other reasons on 28 January.

Absence for COVID-related reasons is available broken down by school type and specific absence reason [7] in underlying data table 1E. 

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[7] Specific absence reasons include a confirmed case of coronavirus, a suspected case of coronavirus, self-isolation due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school and self-isolation due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus outside the school. Figures from 11 January do not include workforce able to work remotely, only those unable to work on-site or remotely, and are therefore not comparable to data on workforce absence collected in the autumn term.

Open status and attendance by type of school or college

Response rate varies between school or college types, therefore some are more sensitive to the non-response methodology than others. Response rates were lower among some setting types, particularly independent schools, which means there is greater uncertainty around their estimates.

  • Attendance was highest in state-funded special schools (33%) and alternative provision (26%), where all pupils are eligible to attend as vulnerable children.
  • Attendance was lower in state-funded secondaries (5%) than state-funded primaries (22%).
  • In state-funded primary schools, 75% of the pupils in attendance were children of critical workers compared with 59% in state-funded secondary schools.
  • Our attendance in alternative provision estimates may be depressed due to alternative provision reporting dual-registered pupils as on roll. Pupils dual-registered with a mainstream setting are not required to attend alternative provision full-time.

Table 1: Response rate and estimates of % open  and % attendance by school or college type on 28 January

Setting type% response rate% open  [9]          % attendance [10] % children with an EHCP attendance% children with a social worker attendance% of pupils attending as children of critical workers
State-funded primary 87%99.3%22%49%54%75%
State-funded secondary88%99.9%5%26%26%59%
State-funded special 85%98.7%33%33%44%-
State-funded alternative provision80%99%26%38%32%-
All state-funded schools 87%99.4%15%36%43%70%
Independent schools [11]57%95%11%44%53%60%
Special post-16 institutions80%96% ----
FE colleges 96%97% ----
  • Workforce on-site attendance is highest in settings with the highest pupil attendance, state-funded special schools and alternative provision.

Table 2: Estimates of % on-site workforce attendance in open settings by school or college type on 28 January

Setting type% response rate% of teachers and school leaders on-site% of teaching assistants and other staff
State-funded primary 87%49%58%
State-funded secondary88%23%37%
State-funded special 85%61%58%
State-funded alternative provision80%56%55%
All state-funded schools 87%38%52%
Independent schools [11]57%28%33%
Special post-16 institutions80%73%67%
FE colleges 96%7%12%

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[9] Open rates are rounded to 1dp for state-funded primary, state-funded secondary, state-funded special and all state-funded schools. For other phases, rates are reported to 0dp and where 100% of settings report they are open, this is reported as 99% given level of uncertainty around these estimates due to lower response rates and/or small population sizes.

[10] Attendance rates are not yet reported for FE colleges or special post-16 institutions as we develop a methodology to account for the fact that some learners attend part-time.

[11]  Figures for independent schools are unlikely to be representative. We looked at a sample of non-responding school websites across different phases to assess whether they were open to children of key workers and vulnerable children. This was to enable us to assess whether non-responding schools were as likely to be open as the responding schools. For independent schools, we found evidence that non-responding schools were more likely to be closed than responding schools. Open rates and attendance rates for independent schools are likely to be lower than reported here. 

Early years settings

The response rate to the early years local authority survey was 84%, with 127 out of 151 LAs submitting data on 28 January.

The following figures are adjusted for non-response. More information can be found in the Methodology section of this release.

  • An estimated 53,000 early years settings were open on 28 January. This represents 78% of all settings, with 10% closed and 11% unknown [12]. The percentage closed may include some providers which are open, due to differences in the ways local authorities collect data and report non-responses. This is currently being reviewed.
  • We estimate 626,000 children attended early years settings on 28 January, up from 603,000 on 21 January. This represents approximately 42% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time [13].
  • Due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis, we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. On a typical day in the Spring term we expect attendance to be 1,052,000. We estimate that the  626,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 59% of the usual daily level [14].

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[12] Due to rounding, these do not always sum to 100%. 

[13] The number of children in term time was estimated using outputs from the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019 and ONS National Population Projections: 2018 based.

[14] LAs are asked to send attendance in EY settings on a typical day of the week. We have calculated normal expected daily attendance based on estimates of the average number of days a child spends in formal childcare on any given day, using the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019. For further details please see the methodology section.

Attendance rates for vulnerable children

Attendance rates for vulnerable children are presented as a proportion of the estimated number of children aged 0-4 with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) using formal childcare plus the total number of Children in Need aged 0-4. We do not have estimates of the number of Children in Need who usually use formal childcare. Therefore the attendance rate is presented to allow comparisons to be made over time, rather than the proportion of vulnerable children who would usually attend early years settings. This means this figure is not comparable with the proportion of children who usually attend childcare in term time.

  • Approximately 30,000 vulnerable children attended early years settings on  28 January, up slightly from 28,000 on 21 January. This represents around 37% of 0 to 4 year olds classified as ‘Children in Need’ or who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) [15].

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[15] 0 to 4 year olds excluding those in Reception classes. This is an estimate based on the 2020 Children in Need census and January 2020 school census. 

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