Methodology

Education provision: children under 5 years of age

Published

1. Background

Overview of the data collection

The data sources for this publication are the early years census, the school census and the school level annual school census. All schools, and all private, voluntary, and independent (PVI) providers (including childminders) receiving government funding, are required to make a return. PVI providers make a return via the early years census, schools via the school census and general hospital schools via the school level annual school census. These are statutory collections, which helps ensure complete and accurate information is returned.

Entitlement to funded early education places

All four-year-olds have been entitled to a funded early education place since 1998 and in 2004 this was extended to all three-year-olds. Since September 2010, all three and four-year-olds have been entitled to 570 hours a year of funded early education over no fewer than 38 weeks of the year (which equates to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year). This is known as the universal entitlement and is referred to as the “funded early education entitlement”.

From September 2013, the entitlement to 15 hours of funded early education per week for 38 weeks of the year was extended to two-year-olds from families in receipt of specified benefits and two-year-olds who were looked after by the local authority. The entitlement for two-year-olds was further extended in September 2014 to children in low income families, children with a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), children in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and children who are no longer looked after by a local authority as a result of an adoption order, a special guardianship order or a child arrangements order which specifies with whom the child is to live. The time series in the publication starts from January 2015 as from September 2014 onwards the eligibility criteria included children with a statement of SEN or an EHCP and is therefore consistent.

In April 2018 the eligibility criteria for two-year-olds to receive a funded early education place were changed to reflect the introduction of Universal Credit. In September 2019 eligibility for the entitlement was extended to:

  • two-year children of Zambrano carers;
  • two-year-olds in families granted immigration leave on the basis of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and subject to a condition that they have no recourse to public funds; and
  • two-year-olds of families supported under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. 

In September 2020 the entitlement was further extended to two-year-olds of families supported under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who also have no recourse to public funds. 

The detailed eligibility criteria for the funded early education entitlement for two-year-olds are set out in regulations - The Local Authority (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Regulations 2014 and The Local Authority (Duty to Secure Early Years Provision Free of Charge) Amendment Regulations 2018.

In September 2017 the government doubled the entitlement to funded early education for three-and four-year-olds in working families who meet the eligibility criteria to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. In September 2018 the entitlement to 30 hours free childcare was extended to three and four-year-old foster children provided that take-up of 30 hours is consistent with the child’s care plan. 

The additional 15 hours for eligible children is referred to as the “extended funded early education” entitlement. This is reported separately to the universal first 15 hours due to the way the data is collected, eligibility is checked, and the common use of separate providers for the two entitlement components of the 30 hours place. 

Eligibility for 30 hours is checked by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Parents must apply for 30 hours through the digital Childcare Service, or in some circumstances, through the childcare service Customer Interaction Centre. Eligibility for 30 hours for foster children is checked by the local authority who has responsibility for the foster child.

30 hours are available to families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family) and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at the national minimum wage or living wage and less than £100,000 per year. This also includes self-employed parents. Foster parents must engage in paid work outside their role as a foster parent. There is no minimum income requirement for foster parents but they cannot exceed the maximum income threshold. 

In 2020 the government introduced a temporary easement to the maximum income threshold as part of the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The change aimed to ensure that critical workers who exceeded the maximum income threshold set out in the 2016 Regulations due to increased income mainly attributable to earnings from work undertaken directly or indirectly as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can continue to take up 30 hours free childcare. The change was only effective for the tax year starting with 6 April 2020 and ending with 5 April 2021. This change was set out in The Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

In May 2020 the government announced an easement to the minimum income threshold so that those parents who would normally be eligible for 30 hours free childcare who had lost income due to COVID-19 (e.g. due to being furloughed), would continue to be eligible for 30 hours free childcare. In October 2020, the government agreed to allow parents who are enrolled on a government coronavirus support scheme to continue to access 30 hours. This change is set out in The Tax Credits, Childcare Payments and Childcare (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020 No. 1515.

Parents who successfully apply for 30 hours are given an ‘eligibility code’ for their child. They are prompted to take this code (along with their National Insurance number and child’s date of birth) to their childcare provider to claim their 30 hours place.

The detailed eligibility criteria for 30 hours are set out in regulations:

Data sources on the extended early entitlement

Since the introduction of the extended early education entitlement policy up until summer 2019, the Department for Education published regular management information to monitor the policy, consisting of monthly management information on the number of eligibility codes issued and validated, and termly headcounts of the number of children in a 30-hour place. Both of these are no longer published and were last updated in 2019.

This statistics publication gives a definitive picture of the number of children in a 30 hours place in January 2021, along with breakdowns by provider type, Ofsted rating of provider, special educational needs provision and staff qualifications.

Further information

More information about funded early education places is included in the statutory guidance for local authorities.

2. National Statistics badging

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in July 2012, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics. 

Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:

  • meet identified user needs;
  • are well explained and readily accessible;
  • are produced according to sound methods, and
  • are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.

Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed. 

Since 2012, these statistics have been improved, in line with policy development, to ensure they remain relevant and best meet the needs of users of the statistics. The main changes are outlined below:

  • Adding data in the 2014 release, when the entitlement to 15 hours of funded early education per week for 38 weeks of the year was extended to two-year-olds from families in receipt of specified benefits, from September 2013. The entitlement criteria were extended in September 2014 and revised in April 2018 to reflect the introduction of Universal Credit. The statistics have adapted to incorporate these changes, including presenting figures on ‘basis for funding’ to help users understand the changes.
  • Adding data in the 2016 release, following the introduction of early years pupil premium (EYPP) in April 2015, for disadvantaged three and four-year-olds. The eligibility criteria for EYPP changed in April 2018 and the statistics have incorporated, and helped users understand, these changes.
  • Adding data in the 2018 release, when the government doubled the entitlement to funded early education for three and four-year-olds in working families who meet the eligibility criteria to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, from September 2017. This is referred to as the extended funded early education entitlement.
  • Circulating Q&A supporting documentation to local authorities after the announcement of a national lockdown two weeks before January census week 2021. This was to ensure consistency of approach and alignment with existing guidance in the context of an unprecedented range of extenuating circumstances. This is outlined in more detail in the “Coronavirus Support 2021” section of the methodology.

The Department has a set of statistical policies in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

3. Data collection

Data collection and cleaning

  • Data is loaded into the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) bespoke data collection system COLLECT (Collections On-Line for Learning, Education, Children and Teachers). 
  • COLLECT has built-in validation rules which flag up data which is potentially in error. This allows local authorities to identify errors and clean the data before they submit it to DfE. Validation rules can either be errors (data is invalid) or queries (data quality is questionable but could be accurate in certain circumstances). 
  • Local authorities are encouraged to clean all errors and double-check data where queries are flagged. Notes can be added to their return if there is a genuine reason for “unusual” data.
  • Guidance notes and specifications (including validation rules) for the early years census can be found here and the school census here.

4. Data processing

Production of this statistics publication

  • The National Statistics Code of Practice requires we take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality.
  • Where it is applicable to apply suppression, we suppress cell counts and totals below 6 and sometimes use secondary suppression and rounding of regional totals to preserve confidentiality. Because of rounding, totals in text and in tables may not always equal the sum of their component parts. Similarly, differences quoted in text may not always be the same as differences shown in underlying data files. This suppression is consistent with the Departmental statistical policy.
  • Where is it decided disclosure control is necessary to protect confidentiality, symbols are used in the underlying data files as follows:

     c     below 6 

     0     the original figure submitted was zero

     .      data not applicable 

     ..     data not available 

     -      represents less than 0.5%

Calculated data items 

The statistics publication covers:

  • Numbers of children registered to receive funded early education

This is a count of children in receipt of funded early education. Where children received funded early education at more than one private, voluntary or independent (PVI) provider (of funded early education), they have been counted only once. The PVI provider where the child took the majority of their funded hours is the provider reported in the figures. A child splitting their funded hours between a maintained school and a PVI provider may be counted more than once. This does not impact on the national take up rate.

For PVI providers, counts are taken from the early years census data. Counts for other providers are taken from the school census and school level annual school census data

  • Funded hours taken

This is the percentage of children broken down by number of funded hours taken[1], where the funded hours have been grouped together into bands. Children at general hospital schools have been excluded from these figures as their data is collected through the aggregate school level annual school census and individual funded hours are not reported. The percentages in each provider group sum to 100%, although this can vary due to rounding of percentages to 1 decimal place. 

  • Number of children by provider type

This is a count of providers by type of provider, and also the number of children registered to receive some funded early education at those providers. Special schools include maintained and non-maintained special schools and general hospital schools.

The number of children registered to receive some funded early education is calculated as the headcount of children in receipt of some funded early education. Where they are receiving funded early education at more than one PVI provider, they have only been counted once at the provider where they take the majority of their funded hours. 

In the 2021 early years census there were 5,150 children who split their funded entitlement across more than one PVI provider and 4,486 who split their extended entitlement across more than one PVI provider. These figures are much lower than previous years. This is likely due to the Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic guidance which stated children should not attend multiple early years settings to minimise the spread of infection.

  • Number of providers

When a child splits their entitlement over more than one provider, the provider where they spend the majority of their time is counted. As childminders often provide wrap-around care, the count of childminders is adversely affected by this methodology. For the two-year-old entitlement and funded early education entitlement, 95% of the providers removed are childminders. For the extended entitlement, 83% of the providers removed are childminders.

  • Ofsted Inspection ratings

To report against Ofsted inspection ratings, we match the early years census data and the school census data to Ofsted inspection ratings.

Ofsted provided us with the latest outcomes of early years inspections up to 31 January 2021. Common variables between the early years census and Ofsted’s outcomes of early years inspections dataset are LA identifier, provider name, and Ofsted unique reference number (URN). There are inconsistencies between data on provider name on the early years census and Ofsted’s outcomes dataset, which made it difficult to use this variable for matching purposes. Matching was carried out using LA number and Ofsted EY URN only. 

Where a match could not be found between the early years census and Ofsted’s outcomes of early years inspections dataset, the relevant cases were then matched to the outcomes of school inspections dataset, again using the Ofsted URN. The outcomes of school inspections dataset was used because some EY providers return a school’s URN rather than an EY URN because the early education is run under the auspices of the governing body of the school and therefore fall under the school’s registration. In such cases, we used the Early Years Foundation Stage inspection rating. If no Early Years Foundation Stage inspection rating was reported then we used the school’s overall effectiveness rating.

Independent schools are inspected by either Ofsted, the Independent Schools Inspectorate or the School Inspection Service; therefore some of these providers were listed under the ‘No match to Ofsted’ category. Where the school was inspected by Ofsted and a match was found, we used the relevant inspection rating for these schools.

For maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools, school census data was matched to Ofsted school inspection data using a combination of the LA number and the establishment number. Independent schools were excluded as these were already included in the early years census return. Academy converters which were yet to be inspected under their new status were included under the ‘No match to Ofsted’ category. The school changes its URN when it converts to an academy.

Inspections ratings from private, voluntary and independent providers were combined with those from maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools to produce the tables.

The percentages are based upon the total number of two, or three and four-year-olds receiving funded early education at providers rated outstanding, good, satisfactory/requires improvement, or inadequate, as a percentage of children at providers who matched and an inspection rating was reported (and therefore excluding children at providers where we do not have an inspection rating). Similarly, percentages of providers with outstanding, good, satisfactory/requires improvement, or inadequate ratings are reported as a percentage of those with a valid matched inspection rating. 

The percentage of providers of funded early education with no matched Ofsted inspection rating rose from 7% to 9%. This is higher than previous years due to the reduced number of Ofsted inspections occurring during 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ofsted have not carried out any full inspections with graded judgements since March 2020 so all the providers that registered with Ofsted between March 2020 and January 2021, or had yet to be inspected, will not have an inspection rating recorded. Matched Ofsted ratings are therefore likely to reflect pre-covid inspections. 

  • Two-year-old eligible population estimates

DfE receives list of families with two-year-olds who meet eligibility criteria of the two-year-old entitlement, in order to support targeting of eligible families. The lists are provided by DWP, based on matching of benefit claim data held by DWP with child benefit records held by HMRC or derived from the Universal Credit Full Service claim process. Lists are provided to DfE at 7 points throughout the year and cover those eligible in the following 3 terms. 

For this publication, the list provided in November 2020 is used to provide the eligible population for January 2021. This list contains children in families who meet the eligibility criteria in November and will be of eligible age in the term starting in the following January. 

The families on the list are potentially eligible for the entitlement through the following:

  • Income Support;
  • Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
  • Income Related Employment and Support Allowance;
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit;
  • Child Tax Credit and/or Working Tax Credit and have an annual income no more than £16,190 as assessed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs;
  • the Working Tax Credit four-week run-on (the payment someone receives for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit); or,
  • The child attracts the Disability Living Allowance.
  • Universal Credit (Full Service only) – for places starting in the summer term of 2019 (on or after 1st April 2019), or any subsequent term, a parent will appear if they are entitled to Universal Credit and have an annual net earned income equivalent to and not exceeding £15,400, assessed on up to three of the parent’s most recent Universal Credit assessment periods.

The list does not include anyone eligible through the following criteria:

  • Supported under Section 4 or Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;
  • Looked after by the local authority
  • Have left the care of the local authority
  • Have a statement of Special Educational Need or an Education, Health and Care Plan
  • Entitled to Universal Credit (Live Service)
  • Children of Zambrano carers
  • Children of families granted immigration leave through Article 8 of the EHCR with no recourse to public funds
  • Supported under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989

In 2013 when the policy was launched an assessment was made which concluded that around 8,000 two-year-olds are estimated to be eligible under the non-economic criteria (i.e. looked after children, children with special educational needs, adopted children and children from asylum seekers). DfE is looking to produce a more robust and up-to-date estimate of these groups (including those who have been extended to since 2013) in the future. 

There was a change in how the lists were produced in April 2019 (for the term starting September 2019). Before April 2019, children in families receiving the Universal Credit Full Service were not included on the lists. From April 2019, children in families receiving the Universal Credit Full Service[2] have been included on the eligible population lists for this publication.

  • Early years pupil premium 

Early years pupil premium (EYPP) was introduced for disadvantaged three and four-year-olds in April 2015. Children will be eligible for EYPP if they are receiving the funded early education entitlement and meet the eligibility criteria of their family being in receipt of specified benefits or the child is looked after by a local authority or no longer looked after by the local authority as a result of an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangement order which specifies with whom the child should live. In April 2018 eligibility for EYPP changed as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit. More details on the eligibility criteria can be found in the Early years entitlements: local authority funding of providers – Operational guide 2020-21.

  • Staff qualifications

Local authorities returned the total number of staff (qualified and unqualified) who work with children under 5 at PVI providers with at least one child receiving funded early education at the time of the census. They also returned the number of staff with the following qualifications, recording the highest qualification held by each member of staff:

  • full and relevant early years Level 2 qualification
  • full and relevant early years Level 3 qualification and not in a managerial role
  • full and relevant early years Level 3 qualification and in a managerial role
  • early years professional status (EYPS)
  • early years teacher status (EYTS)
  • qualified teacher status (QTS)

The number of staff with each of the qualifications is reported in the underlying data of the statistics publication along with the number of providers and children registered at providers with staff with graduate statuses (EYPS, EYTS and QTS). 

  • Ethnicity 

Ethnicity was collected on a mandatory basis for the first time in 2017 for all children in PVI settings and under 5s in schools. It records the ethnicity as stated by the parent/guardian and/or child (in the case of a child without a parent/guardian). Ethnicity is a personal awareness of a common cultural identity and relates to how a person feels and not how they are perceived by others. It is a subjective decision as to which category a person places themselves in and does not infer any other characteristics such as religion or country of origin. 

The establishment must not ascribe any ethnicity to the child. The information must come from the parent / guardian. Where the ethnicity had not yet been collected, ‘NOBT’ (information not yet obtained) was recorded. If a parent refused to provide ethnicity, ‘REFU’ (refused) was recorded. These categories combined are shown as ‘unclassified’ within the underlying data tables.


[1] For those local authorities who provide funded early education places flexibly over more than the standard 38 weeks, the funded hours during census week may not accurately reflect the full extent of the take-up of the funded early education place, e.g. a child funded for 10 hours during census week may in fact be taking up the fully funded place over more than 38 weeks.

[2] Please note those on the Universal Credit Live Service are not included. The number of parents on Live Service is relatively small and migration to Full Service is underway.

5. Data quality

Notes on specific data quality issues

  • Coverage of the statistics

Only those providers with children receiving some funded early education are required to make an early years census return. For example, a provider with no funded two, three or four-year olds would not appear in the early years census. For this reason, this publication does not provide a count of all children aged two, three or four in private, voluntary, and independent providers. There is no data source that would provide this information.

  • ONS population estimates

ONS population estimates are used as the denominator for the take-up rates of the universal entitlement for three and four-year-olds. The population estimates are derived from mid-year estimates and projections produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Mid-year figures are pro-rated evenly by single year of age and the total adjusted to match the total population for that age from the appropriate DfE pupil projections.

These estimates only include long-term migrants. That is, a person who changes their permanent residence for more than a year. The early years census and school census includes all children, even if they are defined as being short-term migrants. Therefore take-up percentages could be overestimated as a result.

Population estimates at lower geographic levels, such as local authority, are subject to a greater degree of error. In some cases, local authority take-up rates can exceed 100%. Therefore, take-up rates at local authority level should be treated with more caution than national take-up rates. The sources used in the calculation of take-up rates for three and four-year-olds are consistent over time, allowing users to see any change in local authority level take-up rates over time. The 2021 publication includes revised population estimates so take-up rates for previous years may differ from past publications.

  • Estimate of those eligible for extended entitlement

The estimate of 456,000 children eligible for the extended entitlement used data from the Family Resources Survey (FRS), Survey of Personal Incomes (SPI), the schools census, the early years census, and Office for National Statistics (ONS) population projections. The methodology for this estimate is consistent with previous years and does not account for COVID-19.

First, the schools and early years census data is used to identify the proportion of four-year-olds attending reception classes. Additional hours funding stops when children start in reception class (or reach compulsory school age, if later), so these figures are subtracted from the population projections. 

FRS data is then used to identify a national estimate of the proportion of three- and four-year-olds with parents meeting the lower earnings eligibility criteria of 16 times the national minimum wage or national living age per week. The SPI and other relevant data and assumptions are then used to estimate the proportion of these pupils whose parents earn above £100,000 per year. This is then subtracted from the total national proportion. The result is then applied to the ONS population projections (having removed children who attend reception classes as described above), to give the number of eligible children nationally. It is not possible to calculate local authority level estimates, they are therefore not included in this publication.

The estimated number of eligible children has risen annually by approximately 20,000 - 30,000 children for the past four years. 

  • Data cleaning exercise of provider types

Since 2014 the number of providers coded as ‘other’ on the early years census has continued to increase. During the 2019 data collection period, DfE undertook a data cleaning exercise to improve data quality by working with local authorities to re-code providers to the correct provider type. Many of these cases were childminders being coded as ‘other’, re-coded correctly as ‘childminder’. This data cleaning exercise will at least partly account for the decrease in the number of ‘other’ providers and the increase in the number of childminders. Caution should therefore be taken when comparing changes in provider types between 2019 and earlier years.

During the 2021 data collection period, DfE undertook a similar data cleaning exercise. Many cases state-funded governor run provision were being coded as ‘other’. DfE worked with local authorities to re-code correctly as ‘state-funded governor run’. This data cleaning exercise will at least partly account for the decrease in the number of ‘other’ providers and the increase in the number of state-funded governor run provision. Caution should therefore be taken when comparing changes in provider types between 2021 and earlier years.

Data Quality issues for specific local authorities and years

The 2020 estimate (taken in November 2019) of eligible two-year-olds in Suffolk was approximately 600 fewer than the correct figure. After investigation, this was shown to be due to an error with the DWP lists locally where postcodes had not correctly matched. Therefore, the take-up rate amongst eligible two-year-olds is not comparable for 2020. 

Once the 2021 early years census closed, Thurrock local authority made DfE aware that the data they submitted was incorrect and was an undercount of the true numbers. Two-year-olds in PVIs had been under-reported by approximately a third, and three and four-year-olds in PVIs had been under-reported by approximately a fifth. This does not impact national take-up rates. Thurrock’s data is therefore suppressed due to the reported inaccuracy but national and regional totals include the original submitted data.

6. Related Publications

‘Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’

The ‘Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ survey is referred to at multiple points of the present publication. Whilst both relate to children at early years providers in England, there are a number of important features of the ‘Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ publication to note which differ from the present publication: 

  • Survey data (as opposed to census data undergoing extensive validation)
  • Children aged under 5 (as opposed to children aged 2-4)
  • All attendance, including children just using parent-paid hours (as opposed to the funded early education entitlements)
  • Physical attendance (as opposed to ‘expected attendance’, inclusive of temporary absence of registered children) 

Local authorities (LAs) were asked to complete an online survey from the Department for Education (DfE) on provision in early years. The survey was twice weekly (on a Monday and Thursday) until 18 June 2020 and changed to weekly (Thursday) from 25 June 2020 and fortnightly from 29 April 2021. LAs are asked about the number of children (all children under 5) attending early years settings, as well as the number of settings open or closed, in their area. The data submitted by LAs is then ‘grossed up’ to account for non-responding LAs to produce a national (England) estimate for the survey day. There is a high degree of uncertainty around the estimated number of children in attendance as, depending on the data collection methodology used by the reporting LA, estimates could be affected by the number of providers responding to LAs to the survey. This likely leads to underreporting of attendance levels.

Due to these essential differences, figures should not be expected to match across the two publications. 

7. COVID-19 Support 2021

Prior to the 2021 early years census going live in January 2021, DfE issued additional information to help local authorities consistently interpret the standard early years census and school census guidance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The early years census and school census are intended to reflect the provision made available to parents/guardians, and a provider’s usual expected attendance for children registered to receive the free entitlements in the week commencing 18th January 2021. This remained the guiding principle behind all the following scenarios outlined. The intention was to ensure parity of approach to counting of funded entitlements across both the school census and the early years census.

Each year, providers and schools are asked each year to record the “normal situation” during the census collection period. Children who are temporarily absent (e.g., sick or on holiday) are included, and providers closed temporarily are asked to record according to the usual situation which would have applied. This remained the principle of the census collections in 2021.

In summary, where a child was reasonably expected to attend early years provision, and that provision was made available to them by the provider, their expected hours were recorded on the relevant census. This meant children who, were it not for the impact of COVID-19 on either their own personal circumstances or on the operation of their early years setting, would have been attending early years provision. This included children who had previously attended the provision and children who were expected to start attending the provision in January 2021.

Where the provider temporarily closed following government guidance (e.g., staff shielding, infections or isolation periods), their expected levels of provision for census week were returned.

Where the provider chose not to offer the entitlements – i.e., to close, or only offer a limited provision to children of key workers - then they were advised not to make a return (or recorded zero funded hours in the case of school census) for a child who was not being offered a place.

Where a provider counted a child on the census, the place must have been genuinely available: this meant a provider could not count a child where they had furloughed the staff who were required to deliver the child’s place.

The key difference to previous years is the extent to which temporary changes are reflected in the data. Usually, only a small number of providers would be expected to be using the limited guidance relating to temporary illness, whereas in 2021 the use of the supporting documentation was far more widespread. To maintain data quality, multiple teams collaborated to ensure consistency and accuracy in response to queries from providers and local authorities.