Jo Morris, nursery manager of Playsteps in Swindon, offers her perspective on the funding difficulties and challenges the sector now faces as a result of the 30-hour offering:
This month saw the beginning of the 30-hour funding pilot across 8 Early Implementer Local Authorities. The sector has been discussing the pilot for months and these discussions look set to continue as everyone in Early Years has their say!
It is likely that the pilot will highlight many issues, initially raising more questions than it answers. One issue that has already been raised is around occupancies; providers are faced with having to increase hours for some children, which is putting pressure on the number of places they can offer and it is likely that this pressure will grow as settings move towards their busier Spring and Summer terms.
A huge question for settings is whether they hold spaces for children who currently attend for less than 30 hours but who are likely to become eligible for the full 30 from next year. Settings must decide whether these children will only be guaranteed the hours that they are already attending, risking that if they become eligible for 30 hours, the family decide to change settings if they aren’t offered their full entitlement. This issue does not arise with the current 15 hours as they are universal. However, as the additional 15 hours are not, settings are faced with having to attempt to second-guess which families may be eligible.
Arguably, the most pressing issue currently is that of the Early Years National Funding Formula. The consultation for this closed on the 22nd of September and has been the subject of much debate.
One area in particular that has caused tension is the huge difference between payments made to some maintained nursery schools and those made to the PVI providers in the same local authority, for example in Birmingham where nursery schools received an average of £8.36 per hour in 2015/16 whilst PVI’s received just £4.03 an hour.
It has been suggested by Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, that maintained nursery schools employ more highly qualified staff, and consequently have higher operating costs.
PVI providers supporting the ‘Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding’ campaign have disputed this, saying that many PVI’s employ graduates and Early Years Teachers and have expenses which maintained settings do not. This includes the rent/mortgage on their premises, the provision of home-cooked meals and all the costs associated with running a business. In addition, maintained nurseries can reclaim VAT on purchases, which PVI’s cannot do.
Under the new EYNFF, Birmingham’s nursery schools would see a fall in their rate of funding to £4.44 per hour and although additional funding has been promised for the first 2 years, Mr Hobby believes that the formula would leave nursery schools unable to stay open unless they receive additional funding on an ongoing basis.
Despite the huge differences paid to different types of providers, there is no difference in the way the settings are inspected or the aspiration and expectation that they will deliver high quality early education to ensure the best possible outcomes for every child.
As a sector, we need to be careful that we don’t get caught up in a PVI versus nursery school debate; we know there hasn’t been a level playing field for years and finally now the PVI sector is standing up and saying that enough is enough.
But this is not about point scoring, let’s not get sidetracked by this, we are all Early Years and should be standing together to fight for a sustainable funding rate and the ability to make reasonable charges for additional services without falling foul of the Code of Practice.
We must not allow anything to distract us from the real issue which is that of the 30- hour scheme which is massively underfunded and needs a drastic shake-up.
All of us in the Early Years are passionate about delivering the very best for our children, regardless of which type of provision they attend. In order to do this, we must be financially viable and able to ensure long term sustainability, something which may not be achievable unless we remain united and continue to do everything that we can in order to ensure that the Government listens and responds to our sector’s concerns.