Reporting Year 2021

Childcare and early years survey of parents

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Introduction

This Official Statistics release provides the main findings of the 2021 wave in the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents series. 

The survey is funded by the Department for Education (DfE), and managed by Ipsos. It aims to provide information to help monitor the progress of policies and public attitudes in the area of childcare and early years education. 

The 2021 survey reports the findings of interviews, conducted between July 2021 and April 2022, with a nationally representative sample of 5,955 parents with children aged 0 to 14 in England. 

Fieldwork for the 2021 survey was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, caution should be taken when comparing 2021 figures with previous years due to the potential impact of COVID disruptions on the 2021 data

For ease of interpretation, data from the 2021 survey wave is compared to the most recently comparable survey wave, which varies depending on the specific data under analysis. 

Where differences are commented upon, e.g. as increases or decreases, these differences are statistically significant. Where differences are not statistically significant, they are described as being ‘in line with’ or ‘unchanged from’ previous figures.

This report summarises key findings from the survey. More detailed findings can be found in the Accompanying Tables (referenced throughout), and in the Technical Report. 

Some 2020 data was collected prior to the survey being stopped due to COVID-19. This can be found in the supporting files to this publication.    

Defining childcare

The study uses a very inclusive definition of childcare and early years provision. Parents were asked to include any time that the child was not with a resident parent, or a resident parent’s current (or ex-) husband, wife, or partner. 

Formal providers: include nursery schools, nursery classes, reception classes, special day schools, day nurseries, playgroups, childminders, nannies or au-pairs, baby-sitters, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and holiday clubs.

Informal providers: include grandparents, older brothers/sisters, other relatives, friends or neighbours.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

There has been a decline in the use of childcare since 2018, although this should be viewed with caution due to potential COVID-19 impacts on 2021 data

Overall, in 2021, almost three in five (57%) children in England aged 0 to 14 had used some form of childcare (such as nurseries, childminders, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, grandparents) during their most recent term-time week, equating to 5.8 million children.

Formal childcare was used by just over two in five (44%) children, equating to 4.5 million children.  This is a fall from 52% in 2018.

The decline in the use of childcare may be due to COVID-19 impacts. For example, 26% of parents of 0-14-year-olds said that they did not use formal childcare because they rarely needed to be away from their child, a marked increase from 11% in 2018. The decline does not appear to be related to deprivation, affordability concerns or mothers’ working patterns. 

Just among children aged 0 to 4 years, a higher proportion (68%) had used childcare during their most recent term-time week than among older age groups (57% among all children aged 0 to 14 years). This is a fall from 76% among 0 to 4 year olds in 2019 and the lowest percentage since 2010-2011. Again, these data should be viewed with caution in light of potential COVID-19 influences. 

Children at school and reliable childcare continue to help mothers to make work choices

Around seven in ten (71%) mothers with children aged 0 to 14 were in work in 2021, in line with 70% in 2018.

Working mothers reported that factors which helped them go out to work included having children at school (44%, up from 40% in 2018) and having reliable childcare (42%, in line with 44% in 2018).

Among mothers working part-time, just over half (51%) said that, even if there were no barriers to doing so, they would not increase their working hours. This is in line with 2018 (55%).  

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Use of childcare and early years provision

Overall use of childcare

Overall, in 2021, 69% of families in England with children aged 0 to 14 had used some form of childcare during their most recent term-time week. (Accompanying Table 1.1) . This is a fall from 75% in 2018. 

Among children aged 0 to 14, 57% had received childcare, having fallen from 65% in 2018 (Accompanying Table 1.3). 

Just among families with children aged 0 to 4 years 83% had used some form of childcare during their most recent term-time week. This is a fall from 87% in 2019. 

Among children aged 0 to 4 years, a higher proportion (68%) had used childcare during their most recent term-time week than among older age groups (57% among all children aged 0 to 14 years). This is a fall from 76% among 0 to 4 year olds in 2019 and the lowest percentage since 2010-2011.   

Both childcare use by pre-school and school-aged children have declined between 2018 and 2021.

The decline in childcare use does not appear to be related to:

  • Affordability: of parents who had not used any childcare in the past year (neither formal nor informal), only 10% said it was because they could not afford childcare, which is in line with 2018 (9%) (Accompanying Table 5.2).  
  • Mothers’ working patterns: just over seven in ten (71%) mothers reported that they were in work, in line with 2018 (70%). There has been an increase in the proportion of mothers working full time between 2018 and 2021 from 34% in 2018 to 37% in 2021 (Accompanying Table 8.5). 

It is possible that COVID could be impacting on the findings from 2021. Of parents who had not used any childcare in the past year (either formal or informal) only 2% mentioned reasons relating to COVID-19 but there may be indirect impacts. For example, in 2021, 26% of parents of 0-14-year-olds said that they did not use formal childcare because they rarely needed to be away from their child (Accompanying Table 5.2). This was a marked increase from 11% in 2018. Therefore, COVID-19 could be impacting on lifestyle changes such as increased working from home, that might be impacting on childcare use for school-aged children in particular. 

Use of formal childcare among families

The proportion of families using formal childcare fell from 62% in 2018 (the most recent comparable wave) to 55% in 2021 (Accompanying Table 1.1). This fall was attributable to a lower take-up across a range of formal childcare providers: after-school clubs (a fall from 32% to 28%), breakfast clubs (a fall from 8% to 6%), day nurseries (a fall from 9% to 6%), playgroups (a fall from 5% to 3%), and childminders (a fall from 5% to 3%).

Turning to families containing pre-school children (aged 0 to 4), the use of formal childcare fell from 76% in 2019 (the most recent comparable wave), to 73% in 2021. The fall was attributable to lower use of playgroups and pre-schools (a fall from 8% to 6%) and day nurseries (a fall from 22% to 13%). 

Among families containing school-age children (aged 5 to 14), the use of formal childcare fell from 60% in 2018, to 52% in 2021.

Use of formal childcare among children

Just over two in five (44%) children aged 0 to 14 received formal childcare in 2021 (Accompanying Table 1.6), a fall from 52% in 2018. 

Among pre-school children, 59% received formal childcare, down from 64% in 2019, and among school-age children, 39% received formal childcare, down from 47% in 2018.

Just under two in five (36%) children aged 0 to 2 received formal childcare, a fall from 41% in 2019 (Accompanying Table 1.6). Children aged 0 to 2 were most likely to receive formal childcare from day nurseries (15%), followed by nursery schools (13%) and childminders (4%). 

Over four in five (83%) children aged 3 to 4 received formal childcare, a fall from 89% in 2019 (Accompanying Table 1.6). Children aged 3 to 4 were most likely to receive formal childcare from reception classes (23%), nursery schools (22%), nursery classes (15%), and day nurseries (12%).

Pre-school children in receipt of formal childcare spent a median of 22.0 hours a week in formal childcare (Accompanying Table 1.7), up from 19.0 hours in 2019. The length of time spent in formal childcare rose with age: children aged 0 to 2 receiving formal childcare spent 17.0 hours a week in formal childcare (unchanged since 2019), while children aged 3 to 4 who received formal childcare spent 27.0 hours a week in formal childcare (up from 21.0 hours in 2019).  The increase in hours of formal childcare among 3 to 4 year olds from 2019 can be explained by fieldwork timing for 2021, in the first half of the academic year when there was a higher proportion of 4 year olds in reception classes. 

The characteristics associated with children’s likelihood of receiving formal childcare included:

  • The child’s age: children aged 3 to 4 were most likely to receive formal childcare (83%) while children aged 12 to 14 were least likely to (25%) (Accompanying Table 1.6);
  • The deprivation level of the local area: 56% of children living in the least deprived areas received formal childcare, compared to 35% of children living in the most deprived areas (Accompanying Table 1.3);
  • The family’s (gross) annual income: 57% of children in families earning £45,000 or more received formal childcare, compared to 30% of those in families earning under £10,000 (Accompanying Table 1.3);
  • The family structure and work status: children in dual-working couple families (54%), and in working lone-parent families (42%), were most likely to receive formal childcare. Children in couple families with neither parent in work (22%), and in non-working lone-parent families (30%) were least likely to receive formal childcare (Accompanying Table 1.3).

Use of informal childcare among children

Just over two in five (22%) children used informal childcare in 2021 (Accompanying Table 1.6), a decline from 2018 (28%). 

Pre-school children were more likely to use informal childcare than school-age children (27% and 20% respectively). Childcare use has declined in both age groups since 2018 (from 32% among pre-school children and 26% among school-age children in 2018). 

Children were most likely to receive informal childcare from grandparents (17%, in line with 18% in 2018), with small proportions of children being cared for by friends or neighbours (2%, a fall from 4% in 2018), and older siblings (2%, a fall from 3% in 2018). Among pre-school children 24% were cared for by grandparents (a fall from 29% in 2019), and among school-age children 14% were cared for by grandparents (in line with 15% in 2018).

Children who received informal childcare spent a median of 6.6 hours a week in informal childcare (Accompanying Table 1.7). Pre-school children receiving informal childcare spent longer in informal childcare than their school-age counterparts (9.0 hours and 5.0 hours respectively).

Use of holiday childcare among school-age children

Around two in five (39%) families with school-age children used childcare during school holidays (Accompanying Table 7.1), in line with 2018 (38%). Just under one in five (18%) families used formal childcare during school holidays, a fall from 21% in 2018. A quarter (25%) of families used informal childcare during school holidays, in line with 2018 (27%).

Almost three in five (58%) parents of school-age children who worked during school holidays said it was easy or very easy to arrange childcare during the holiday periods, unchanged since 2017 when this question was last asked (Accompanying Table 7.12). Around a quarter (24%) reported that it was difficult or very difficult to arrange childcare during the school holidays, in line with 2017 (25%). Those who experienced difficulties arranging holiday childcare most commonly said this was due to family or friends not always being available to help (44%), or because they found it difficult to afford holiday childcare (42%), which was not statistically significantly different from 2017 (35%) (Accompanying Table 7.13). Only 3% gave reasons explicitly relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among families with school-age children who did not use holiday childcare, over half (52%) said this was because they preferred to look after their children themselves, 26% said it was because they (or their partner) was at home during the school holidays, and 23% said they rarely needed to be away from their children (Accompanying Table 7.14). Only 6% gave reasons explicitly relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reasons for using childcare

Around seven in ten (71%) pre-school children who received childcare (formal or informal) did so for economic reasons (e.g. to enable their parents to work, to look for work, or to study), and 61% received childcare for child-related reasons (e.g. for the child’s educational or social development, or because the child likes attending) (Accompanying Table 9.10). Reasons relating to parental time (e.g. so the parents could conduct domestic activities, socialise, or look after other children) were less common (20%). These proportions are in line with 2019 (69%, 59%, and 20% respectively).

By annual family income, over four in five (83%) pre-school children in families earning £45,000 or more who received childcare did so for economic reasons, falling to 44% of pre-school children in families earning under £10,000. This pattern was reversed with respect to reasons relating to parental-time: 16% of pre-school children in families earning £45,000 or more received childcare for reasons relating to parental time, rising to 33% among those earning under £10,000. Pre-school children’s receipt of childcare for child-related reasons varied less markedly by income, rising from 52% for pre-school children in families earning under £10,000, to 68% among families earning between £30,000 and £45,000, then falling back to 60% among families earning £45,000 or more.

School-age children were most likely to receive childcare for child-related reasons (64%, in line with 67% in 2018), followed by economic reasons (55%, in line with 54% in 2018), with reasons relating to parental time again being less common (16%, in line with 15% in 2018) (Accompanying Table 10.6). 

Reflecting the trends by annual family income just described for pre-school children, school-age children in families earning £45,000 or more were most likely to receive childcare for economic reasons (62%, falling to 39% among pre-school children in families earning under £10,000), and were least likely to receive childcare for reasons relating to parental time (12%, rising to 25% among school-age children in families earning under £10,000). School-age children’s receipt of childcare for child-related reasons did not vary across the income distribution.

Parents considered a range of factors when choosing a formal childcare provider for their child. For pre-school children, the most common factors were the provider’s reputation (63%, a rise from 57% in 2019), convenience (62%, unchanged since 2019), and so the child could mix with other children (56%, a rise from 50% in 2019) (Accompanying Table 6.1). For school-age children, the most common reasons were convenience (48%, in line with 46% in 2018), the provider’s reputation (43%, a rise from 38% in 2018), and concerns relating to the kind of care provided (38%, a rise from 33% in 2018) (Accompanying Table 6.1).

Parents who had not used any childcare in the past year (neither formal nor informal) tended not to use childcare out of choice, rather than due to constraints. Almost three in five (58%) parents who were not using childcare said this was because they would rather look after their child(ren) themselves and 25% said it was because their children are old enough to look after themselves, which are both in line with 2018 (63% and 25%, respectively). A further 26% said it was because they rarely need to be away from their children, an increase from 2018 (11%) ( Accompanying Table 5.2). Only 10% said it was because they could not afford childcare, which is in line with 2018 (9%), and only 2% mentioned reasons relating to COVID-19. 

There were some differences by the age of the children in the family. A higher percentage of families that contained only pre-school children said that they would rather look after their children themselves than those families that just had school age children (67% compared to 54%) and families with younger children were less likely to be able to afford childcare than those with only school age children (14% compared to 9%). 

Changes to local childcare provision

Parents were asked what changes to local childcare provision, if any, would be most helpful for making it better suited to their needs. Parents were most likely to say more affordable childcare (31%, a rise from 26% in 2018), more childcare available during the school holidays (20%, in line with 19% in 2018), more flexibility about when childcare is available (14%, a rise from 12% in 2018), longer opening hours (14%, in line with 15% in 2018), and more information about what’s available (14%, unchanged from 2018) (Accompanying Table 5.15).  

There were some differences by age of the children within the family. A higher percentage of families who only had pre-school children, compared to those who only had school-age children, cited more affordable childcare (40% compared to 26%) and more flexibility about when childcare is available (17% compared to 13%).  However, a lower percentage of families with only pre-school children said that they wanted more childcare available during the school holidays, compared to those who only had school-age children (15% compared to 21%). 

Parents who wanted to see improvements made to local childcare provision were asked at which times of the year improvements should be made in order to meet their needs. Parents were most likely to say in the Summer holidays (62%, in line with 65% in 2018), followed by during half-term holidays (37%, in line with 36% in 2018), in the Easter holidays (35%, in line with 34% in 2018), on weekdays during term time (32%, down from 36% in 2018), and in the Christmas holidays (30%, in line with 29% in 2018) (Accompanying Table 5.14). 

There were differences by age of the children in the family. Families who had school age children only were more likely to say they wanted to see improvements to provision in all the school holidays compared to those who only had pre-school children. 

Receipt of the entitlement to government funded childcare or early education

Awareness and use of 15 hours of childcare or early education 

Over nine in ten (93%) parents with a child aged 0 to 4 were aware of the universal 15 hours offer available for 3 and 4 year olds (Accompanying Table 2.2), unchanged since 2019. Awareness levels varied by annual family income: almost all (98%) parents earning £45,000 or more per year were aware of the scheme, with awareness levels for those on lower incomes lying in a narrow band between 89% (for those earning under £10,000 per year) and 91% (for those earning between £30,000 and £45,000 per year). 

Among parents with a 2-year-old, four in five (80%) were aware that certain 2-year-olds are eligible for some free hours of childcare each week (Accompanying Table 2.4), in line with 2019 (79%). There was no difference in awareness of the free hours for 2 year olds by annual family income (Accompanying Table 2.13). 

Official statistics from the DfE’s Early Years Census and Schools Census show that in January 2022, 94% of 4-year-olds, 92% of 3-year-olds, and 72% of eligible 2-year-olds benefitted from funded childcare or early education. 

In 2021, over nine in ten (93%) parents using the universal 15 hours offer available for 3 and 4 year olds were satisfied with the way they could use the hours for their child (Accompanying Table 2.5), unchanged since 2019. Nine in ten (90%) parents using the 2-year-old offer were satisfied with the way they were able to use the hours for their child, a fall from 96% in 2019.

30 hours of childcare or early education for working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds

Awareness and understanding of the 30 hours 

Among parents with a child aged 0 to 4, over four in five (83%) were aware of the 30 hours (Accompanying Table 3.1), up from 81% in 2019. Awareness varied by family working status, with awareness lower in households ineligible for the scheme (71% among couple households with neither parent in work, rising to 89% among dual-working couple households). Awareness levels varied by annual family income (73% among those earning under £10,000, rising to 91% of those earning £45,000 or more per year). Awareness also varied by the age of the children in the household: among families with a child aged 0 to 2 (but no child aged 3 to 4) 77% were aware, while among families with a child aged 3 to 4 (but no child 0 to 2) 89% were aware (Accompanying Table 3.5).

Parents who were aware of the 30 hours were asked if they knew that providers can charge for extra services, such as meals, consumables, and special lessons or activities. Over four in five (83%) parents knew this to be the case, a rise from 78% in 2018 (Accompanying Table 3.11). Among parents who were aware that providers can charge for certain extra services, most (73%) were aware that parents can choose not to receive, or pay, for these services, in line with 2018 (72%) (Accompanying Table 3.12).

Take-up of the 30 hours

Official statistics from the DfE’s Early Years Census and Schools Census show that in January 20224, 348,100 children aged 3 to 4 benefitted from the extended 30 hours entitlement, or approximately four in every five eligible children.

The great majority (93%) of parents using the 30 hours were satisfied with the way they were able to use the hours for their child (Accompanying Table 2.5), in line with 2019 (94%). 

Among working parents with a 3 or 4year-old who had not applied for the 30 hours and were not intending to apply, the most common reason for not applying was that they did not think they were eligible (64%), because they or their partner earnt too much (23%) or they didn’t think they were eligible for another reason (25%) (Accompanying Table 3.7). The remaining 36% of parents had not applied because of a reason unrelated to eligibility, including that their child had started school (10%), that they would rather look after their child themselves (8%), that they did not need any more hours of childcare (5%), and that they didn’t use formal childcare (4%) (Accompanying Table 3.7).

Almost three in five (58%) non-working parents with a child aged 0 to 4, who were not receiving or registered for the 30 hours, felt it was likely they would try to find paid work to become eligible for the 30 hours (Accompanying Table 3.2), in line with 2019 (57%). Among parents whose partner was not in work, and who were not already receiving or registered for the 30 hours, around half (49%) thought it likely that their partner would try and find paid work to become eligible for the 30 hours (in line with 43% in 2019).

Almost all (96%) children receiving government funded hours (whether under the 2-year-old offer, the 15 hours offer, or the 30 hours offer) received their hours from a single childcare provider, with the remaining 4% receiving their hours from two or more providers (Accompanying Table 3.9). These proportions are in line with 2019 (94% and 6% respectively).

Among children receiving government funded hours from their main formal provider, nine in ten (90%) were attending their parents’ first choice of provider, in line with 2019 (89%) (Accompanying Table 2.9). For most (89%) children receiving government funded hours from their main formal provider, their parents had found it easy or very easy to get a place at the provider, in line with 2019 (90%) (Accompanying Table 2.11).

Perceived impacts of the 30 hours 

Parents using the 30 hours were asked some questions to gauge the perceived impact of the hours on their work, and on their family finances. Just over half (52%) of parents said that if the 30 hours were not available to them, they would still work the same number of hours (Accompanying Table 3.3), in line with 2019 (53%). Almost two in five (38%), however, thought that in the absence of the 30 hours they would work fewer hours, which is not statistically significantly different from 33% in 2019 . Only 5% of parents thought they would be working more hours were the 30 hours not available to them, unchanged since 2019.

Just over half (52%) of lone parents said they would work fewer hours, were the 30 hours not available to them, which compares with around a third of parents in couple families (35%).

Almost three-quarters (73%) of parents reported that the 30 hours had improved their family finances (in line with 2019, 78%), with 42% saying they had ‘slightly more money’ to spend than before, and 31% saying they had ‘much more money’ to spend than before (Accompanying Table 3.4).

Paying for childcare

Just over half (53%) of families who used a childcare provider in the reference week reported paying for this childcare (Accompanying Table 4.1), down from 57% in 2018. Of families using formal provision, 58% reported paying for this childcare, down from 64% in 2018. And of families using informal provision, 5% reported paying for this childcare, unchanged since 2018.

Families with school-age children only were most likely to pay for their formal provision (62%), followed by families with pre-school children only (58%). Among families with both pre-school and school-age children, 52% paid for their formal provision.

Weekly cost of childcare

The overall median weekly amount paid by families to childcare providers (including both formal and informal providers) was £31.00 (Accompanying Table 4.5), a rise from £25.00 in 2018. The amount paid varied depending on the number of hours of childcare used across all children in the household, and the types of providers used. Costs statistics are subject to a number of caveats, as described in the Technical Report.

Median weekly payments to childcare providers varied by the age of the children in the household. In families with pre-school children only it stood at £83.55, in families with both pre-school and school-age children, at £50.00, and in families with school-age children only, at £21.17.

Turning to child-level (rather than family-level) payments, the overall median weekly amount paid to formal childcare providers was £20.00 (Accompanying Table 4.6), up from £16.35 in 2018. For pre-school children, the payment stood at £62.00, up from £46.00 in 2019. For children aged 0 to 2, the payment was £99.48, not statistically significantly different from £85.00 in 2019, and for children aged 3 to 4, this payment was £39.96, up from £22.50 in 2019. For school-age children, the weekly payment stood at £13.00, in line with 2018 (£12.50).

Child-level payments are influenced by the total number of hours children spend in formal childcare, as well as the types of providers used. As such, any changes in payments over survey years do not necessarily reflect changes in the fees and charges levied by childcare providers.

Perceptions around the cost of childcare

Just over two in five (42%) parents rated the affordability of local childcare as very or fairly good (Accompanying Table 5.1), in line with 2018 (41%). Three in ten (30%) parents rated the affordability of local childcare as very or fairly poor, unchanged since 2018.

Among families containing only pre-school children, 45% felt that local childcare was affordable, in line with 2019 (41%). And among families containing only school-age children, 39% felt that local childcare was affordable, in line with 2018 (37%).

By family type, parents in couple families were more likely than those in lone parent families to feel that local childcare is affordable (45%, compared to 33%).

Almost three in five (56%) parents who paid for childcare said it was easy or very easy to meet their childcare costs (Accompanying Table 4.3), a rise from 52% in 2018. Around one in five (19%) found it difficult or very difficult to meet their childcare costs, unchanged from 2018.

Among families with school-age children only, 63% found their childcare costs easy or very easy to meet, compared with 43% among families with pre-school children only, in line with 2018 (58% among school-age children only and 45% among pre-school children only). Around a quarter (24%) of families with pre-school children only found it difficult or very difficult to meet their childcare costs, a fall from 30% in 2019. Among families with school-age children only, 15% found it difficult or very difficult to meet their childcare costs, in line with 2018 (17%).

Difficulty in meeting childcare costs varied by annual family income. Almost half (45%) of families earning under £10,000 per year found it difficult or very difficult to meet their childcare costs, falling to just 13% of families earning £45,000 or more, which is an increase from 2018 (32% of families earning under £10,000 per year and 10% for families earning £45,000 or more).  

Financial help with childcare costs

Parents were asked whether they received any financial help towards childcare costs for any children in the household. This covered a variety of sources, including an employer (via childcare vouchers, direct payments to providers, or provision at the parent’s place of work), the entitlement to government funded childcare / early education via their Local Education Authority (LEA), and an ex-partner.

Among families who used formal childcare in the reference week, 16% reported that they received financial assistance from at least one external source (Accompanying Table 4.10), a fall from 21% in 2018. Parents were most likely to receive support from their employer (8%, a fall from 13% in 2018) followed by their LEA (5%, a fall from 7% in 2018). 

Among families containing pre-school children only, 18% received some financial help, a fall from 29% in 2019. Parents in these families were most likely to receive help from their LEA (10%, in line with 11% in 2019), followed by their employer (6% in 2021, down from 18% in 2019). The LEA figures are a lower percentage than would be expected as participants may not be aware that the free hours are coming from the local authority, but instead directly from HMRC, therefore are not reporting free hours here when they do receive them. 

Impact of government-funded and employer-provided support

Parents in work and receiving one or more forms of government-funded or employer-provided support were asked what impact, if any, this support had had on their (and on their partner’s) job. The forms of support were: Government funded hours of childcare under the 15 or 30 hours offers; Tax-Free Childcare; Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit; employer-provided childcare vouchers; direct payments to a childcare provider made by an employer; and a childcare provider located at the parent or partner’s place of work.

Parents were most likely to say that the support they received had enabled them to stay in work (28%, a rise from 23% in 2018), maintain their working hours (19%, in line with 20% in 2018), or increase their working hours (14%, unchanged from 2018) (Accompanying Table 4.15). Only 5% of parents said the support had led them to decrease their working hours, in line with 2018 (6%).

Parents in families containing only school-age children were less likely to say that the support had enabled them to increase their working hours (8%, compared to 18% among families containing only pre-school children, and also 18% among families containing both pre-school and school-age children). This is in line with 2018 (9% compared to 18% of families containing only pre-school children and 20% containing both pre-school and school-age children). Conversely, parents in families containing only school-age children were more likely to say that the support had enabled them to decrease their working hours (6%, compared to 4% among families containing only pre-school children and 3% among families containing both pre-school and school-age children). 

For partners, the support was most likely to have enabled them to stay in work (17%, up from 10% in 2018), maintain their working hours (16%, in line with 17% in 2018), or increase their working hours (8%, unchanged since 2018) (Accompanying Table 4.16). 

Tax-Free Childcare

Over two in five (44%) parents with a child aged under 12 were aware of the Tax-Free Childcare scheme (Accompanying Table 5.17), a rise in awareness since 2018 (27%). By family work status, dual-working couple families were most likely to be aware of the scheme (52%), followed by working lone parent families (41%). Non-working lone parent families were least likely to be aware (28%).

Among working families (dual-working couple families and working lone parent families) with a child aged under 12, just over half (51%) were unaware of the scheme, 30% were aware but had not applied for the scheme, 17% had applied for the scheme and used it to pay a provider, and 2% had applied for the scheme but had not used it to pay a provider.

Among parents with a child aged under 12 who had not applied for the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, 22% said they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ apply for it in the future (Accompanying Table 5.19). For those who did not intend to apply for Tax-Free Childcare in the future, the main reasons were because they did not use formal childcare (22%), because they (or their partner) were not working (15%), because they claimed Universal Credit (14%) or Tax Credits (10%), or because they thought they (or their partner’s) income was too high (11%) or that they were otherwise ineligible (11%) (Accompanying Table 5.20).

Perceptions of childcare and early years provision

Perceptions of quality

Over two-thirds (68%) of parents rated the overall quality of local childcare provision as very or fairly good, a rise from 64% in 2018. Just 7% rated it as very or fairly poor, a fall from 9% in 2018 (Accompanying Table 5.1). 

Among families with pre-school children only, 73% of parents rated the overall quality of local childcare provision as very or fairly good, a rise from 68% in 2019. Among families with children aged 5-14 only, 63% of parents rated the overall quality of local childcare provision as very or fairly good, a rise from 57% in 2019.

Perceptions of availability and flexibility

Just under half (46%) of parents felt the number of local childcare places was ‘about right’ (in line with 45% in 2018), while 30% said there were not enough places (in line with 29% in 2018) (Accompanying Table 5.1).

Among families with pre-school children only, half (50%) of parents felt the number of local childcare places was ‘about right’, in line with 2019 (49%). And among families with school-age children only, 42% of parents felt the number of local childcare places was ‘about right’, in line with 2018 (39%).

Around one in five (21%) parents reported problems with finding childcare flexible enough to meet their needs, in line with 2018 (22%) (Accompanying Table 5.13).  Parents who had school age children only and used formal childcare were more likely to have problems finding flexible childcare than parents who only had pre-school age children (50% of pre-school only families disagreed that they had problems finding flexible childcare compared to 35% of parents with school-age children only). 

Among working families (couple families with one or both parents in work, and working lone-parent families), half (50%) felt that they were able to find term-time childcare that fitted in with their (and/or their partner’s) working hours, in line with 2018 (49%) (Accompanying Table 5.13).

Information about childcare

Half (50%) of parents said the information available to them about childcare in their local area was ‘about right’ (in line with 49% in 2018), while 29% thought there was ‘too little’ information (in line with 31% in 2018) (Accompanying Table 5.1). A further 20% of parents were unsure (in line with 18% in 2018), and 1% felt there was too much information (in line with 2% in 2018).

Among families with pre-school children only, 55% felt that the amount of available information was about right, in line with 2019 (52%). And among families with school-age children only, 48% felt that the amount of available information was about right, in line with 2018 (44%).

Parents were most likely to receive information about childcare via word of mouth, for example from friends or relatives (39% having done so in the last year), followed by from school (31%) and from social media (20%) (Accompanying Table 5.3).


 

 

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s social and educational development

Parents were asked to think of the overall disruption to schools and childcare settings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to say to what extent they thought this had harmed their child’s social and educational development. Over half (54%) of parents felt that the disruption had harmed their child’s development a great deal or a fair amount (Accompanying Table 6.18). The disruption was felt to be most acute for school-age children, with 60% of parents feeling that their school-age child’s development had been harmed, compared to 38% for pre-school children. 

The home learning environment

Frequency of home learning and play activities

The home learning activity most frequently carried out with children aged 0 to 5 was looking at books or reading, with 62% of parents reporting that someone at home does this activity at least once a day with their child (Accompanying Table 6.7), a fall from 70% in 2017 when this question was last comparably asked.

The next most frequently conducted home learning activities were learning songs, poems or nursery rhymes (53% of parents reported that someone at home does this at least once a day with their child, a fall from 59% in 2017) (Accompanying Table 6.10), and learning numbers or to count (53% of parents reported that someone at home does this at least once a day with their child, a fall from 58% in 2017) (Accompanying Table 6.9). 

There has been little change in the frequency of home learning activities among 0 to 4 year olds between 2021 and 2019.  However, when comparing 2021 to 2017, there has been a decline in parents reading (from 69% of parents reporting that someone at home does this at least once a day in 2017 to 62% in 2021) and learning songs, poems or nursery rhymes (from 62% in 2017 to 58% in 2021) (Accompanying Table 6.19). 

Information about home learning and play activities

Parents were asked where they get information and ideas about learning and play activities they can do with their child. Parents were most likely to get information from friends or relatives (58%), social media sites (45%), internet sites (43%), and other parents (36%) (Accompanying Table 6.17).

Mothers, work and childcare

Levels of work among mothers

Just over seven in ten (71%) mothers reported that they were in work (Accompanying Table 8.5), in line with 2018 (70%).  There was an increase in the percentage of mothers working full-time since 2018 to 37% in 2021 from 34% in 2018 (Accompanying Table 7.15).  Almost half (45%) of non-working mothers said that if they could arrange good quality childcare that was convenient, reliable and affordable, they would prefer to go out to work (Accompanying Table 8.12), a fall from 52% in 2018.

Factors influencing going out to work

Among mothers who had entered the workforce in the past two years, the most common reasons for starting work were finding a job that enabled them to combine work with their child(ren) (20%), wanting to get out of the house (17%), their child(ren) starting school (15%), their financial situation (12%), and wanting financial independence (11%) (Accompanying Table 8.8).

Three per cent of mothers said they entered the workforce to become eligible for the 30 hours, and among mothers with a child aged 2 to 4, this proportion was 5% (not statistically significantly different from 9% in 2019).

Mothers who had transitioned from part-time to full-time work in the previous two years most commonly did so because their maternity leave came to an end (26%), because of their financial situation (e.g. their husband, wife or partner losing their job) (17%), because they found a job that enabled them to combine their work with their child(ren) (14%), and because their child(ren) started school (13%) (Accompanying Table 8.9). Seven per cent of parents said they made this change to become eligible for the 30 hours.

Working mothers were asked what childcare arrangements, if any, helped them to work. Over two in five (44%) said that having children at school helped them to work, a rise from 40% in 2018; 42% mentioned having reliable childcare, in line with 2018 (44%); 38% mentioned having relatives who could help with childcare, unchanged since 2018; 27% mentioned childcare that fitted with their working hours, a fall from 31% in 2018; and 26% mentioned having good quality childcare, in line with 2018 (25%) (Accompanying Table 8.3).

Eight per cent of mothers mentioned that the 30 hours helped them to work, and among those with a child aged 3 to 4 this proportion rose to 37% (in line with 39% in 2019). Four per cent of working mothers said the 15 hours helped them to work, and among those with a child aged 3 to 4 this proportion rose to 17% (down from 23% in 2019).

Among mothers working part-time just over half (51%) said that, even if there were no barriers to doing so, they would not increase their working hours or work full-time (Accompanying Table 8.1), in line with 2018 (55%). Among families with a pre-school child this proportion stood at 48% (a fall from 54% in 2019), and among families with a school-age child this proportion stood at 52% (in line with 55% in 2018).

A third (33%) of mothers working part-time said that, in the absence of any barriers, they would continue to work part-time but would increase their working hours, and 17% said they would move into full-time work. These proportions were in line with 2018 (30% and 15% respectively).

Mothers in lone parent households were more likely than those in couple households to express a desire to move from part-time to full-time work (21% compared to 14% respectively). 

By annual family income, those in the middle of the income distribution were most likely to express a desire to move from part-time to full-time work (27% among those earning between £20,000 and £30,000, falling to 4% among those earning under £10,000, and 10% among those earning £45,000 or more). And in terms of a desire to increase working hours, just over two in five (42%) mothers in families earning under £10,000 expressed a desire to increase their working hours, falling to 27% among those in families earning £45,000 or more. 

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