We are fast approaching September and the full roll-out of the 30 hour ‘free’ childcare offer for eligible families.
The manifesto pledge has caused many difficulties for providers; Brexit and the recent Purdah and General Election have delayed the release of all the supporting documents and provider agreements. Many providers still haven’t seen the agreement that their local authority will be asking them to sign or had the parental declarations that they are required to get completed by every eligible parent.
Parents have reported difficulties in obtaining their eligibility codes as the website set up by the Government crashes frequently and most local authorities have not yet got their eligibility checking system in place, so parents and providers are unable to confirm their childcare arrangements for September.
By far the main concern for most providers is that the hourly rate paid by their local authority does not cover their full fee, but any charges to parents to make up the shortfall must be voluntary.
The Department for Education and former Early Years Minister Caroline Dinenage have told providers that we should be charging parents for the things that the funding is not intended to cover such as meals, nappies, trips and extra activities, something that many providers have termed ‘additional services’.
However, the statutory guidance states these charges must be voluntary and that providers must set their own policies about what they will do if parents are unable or unwilling to pay, with options including reducing or waiving the fees.
The most upsetting consequence of the 30-hour policy is the number of settings who have decided that they cannot continue. At Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding we have been keeping track of settings who are closing and sadly the number is increasing.
We hear from many providers who are worried about their long term sustainability, their main concerns centre around the fact that government legislation around National Minimum / Living Wage, statutory pension schemes and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy are pushing up their costs, but their underfunding remains stagnant.
Kate Peach from Each Peach Childcare has been helping Rising Stars, a charity pre-school in Eastbourne, for over a year. Rising Stars cares for many children with additional needs and is an important part of the community, however, after hearing that their new funding rate would not be enough to keep them sustainable, they have announced they will close in July.
Many, like Rising Stars, have already decided to close whilst other providers that we speak to are planning to see how much the underfunding affects them this year and will then decide on their future. We have also heard from many providers who are not offering the 30 hours simply because they cannot afford to.
Another issue that we are starting to hear more about is that PVI settings who rent premises from schools are seeing steep increases in rent or being served notice to leave as the schools are setting up their own nurseries. This, coupled with the Conservatives’ new pledge to ensure that schools are given capital funding for nursery provision and all new schools will have a nursery, is another risk to the PVI sector – although these settings will not cater for our younger children and for the most part will continue to operate during school term times only.
It’s heartbreaking to hear of closures and of providers struggling to find ways to work around restrictive, unfair legislation simply in order to survive; providing high quality early education and childcare is expensive and is so much more than just a job. Our passionate, dedicated sector deserves so much more than to be told to have donation buckets in their settings in order to try to make ends meet.
The 30 hours is a game changer for the sector, the Government will be by far the biggest purchaser of childcare in the UK and yet they are not paying the true cost of that care.
At CNLF, we are continuing to speak to several MPs and are encouraging all providers to do the same to keep this vital issue as high profile as possible. We will continue to spread awareness and lobby for change. It will sadly be too late for the settings who are closing, but we are still aiming for a change in the legislation, removal of the word ‘free’ and the ability to legally charge for all the extra things that we provide. It’s difficult to get legislation changed but it’s not impossible, especially if we stand united.
About the author
Jo Morris has been in Early Years for 21 years; she holds the NNEB Diploma and has worked as a nanny and creche manager, working at sporting events across Europe and the Middle East.
For the past 9 years she has been the manager of a large PVI setting, gaining her Early Years Degree in 2015 and setting up a new company to grow the business.
Jo is passionate about the sector and about achieving the best possible outcome for every child.
Supporting practitioners is a key part of this and as such she is the spokesperson for Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding, a campaign group supporting the sector by calling for a change in the legislation around the 30 hours ‘free’ childcare policy.
You can contact Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org