The Code of Practice on the free entitlement to nursery education will be implemented from September, the Government has confirmed, despite pre-election promises by the Conservatives to suspend it.
The news will come as a blow to some nursery owners who were hoping the Tories would fulfil their pledge to postpone the Code and allow settings to charge top-up fees.
A Government spokesperson said, ‘The new Code of Practice will come into force in September, to ensure that local authorities are working to a clear common framework in implementing the extension to 15 hours. However, we will be looking to streamline this guidance next year.’
When asked about top-up fees, the spokesperson said that primary legislation required local authorities to secure nursery education free of charge.
The Government also announced that the Early Years Single Funding Formula is to be made statutory from April, but a requirement has been added that all local formulas must include a deprivation supplement, which may eventually become a Pupil Premium for the early years.
A consultation on the best way to operate a Pupil Premium for school-aged children, including what deprivation indicator should be used, was launched on Monday by education secretary Michael Gove and children’s minister Sarah Teather. The Pupil Premium is aimed at helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their school performance.
The consultation also asks whether the policy of funding at least 90 per cent of a local authority’s three-year-old population should be changed to one based on actual take-up of free entitlement places.
A Government spokesperson said, ‘We think it is right that funding should based on actual numbers of pupils and so we are consulting on this issue.’
The National Day Nurseries Association stressed that local authorities would need to have an effective formula in place before April 2011, as there was still a lot of uncertainty around funding, with many nurseries reporting that funding for the free entitlement was not at a sustainable level.
Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘While it is fantastic that parents have access to the free entitlement, it is not free to a large proportion of nurseries who have to subsidise the cost of delivery and it can be a direct threat to their sustainability. Sixty per cent of providers report that funding for free sessions does not cover their costs.’
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘Providers in all sectors of childcare provision will welcome the certainty afforded by today’s announcement that the coalition government will press ahead with the Early Years Single Funding Formula from April. 4Children has always supported the principle of transparency and consistency in early years funding.
‘What is really important is that children and families have access to high-quality, affordable early education and care. We believe that in the longer term, a single funding formula will support this aim.’
To help nurseries across the UK adjust to the free entitlement changes in September easier, we are currently running a promotion for our Abacus nursery management software.
How is your childcare setting adapting to the free entitlement changes? Do you feel there is enough funding available to cover the cost of provision? Start a discussion below, by sharing your thoughts and ideas about the issues nurseries face with free entitlement changes.