By now, everyone in the early years sector will be aware of the 30 hours free childcare due to start in all areas in 2017. With any new initiative from the Government, there is an element of worry and concern about what this actually means for practitioners. Another change to get to grips with!
As a grandparent I can see that many young families would benefit from extra help with the cost of childcare, but as a nursery manager I have a more cynical reaction. Some fundamental questions come to mind: Who will benefit? What are the underlying reasons for implementing this? Is it just a ‘vote-catcher’? Why are the most vulnerable members of society (i.e. the 2-year-olds) not included?
However, the main question to ask is: “What are the implications for my nursery?”
The overriding concern for me is that the scheme is underfunded. Despite the revisions to the funding formula and area cost adjustments, many nurseries will continue to find themselves out of pocket. Current funding leaves my nursery approximately £1.50 per hour per child short of real costs. This quickly becomes a vast sum of money when multiplied by the number of three- and four-year-olds who attend.
Unfortunately, information regarding the amount that will be payable for the 30 hours is not yet available. The Pre-School Learning Alliance have produced an online calculator so that it should be possible to establish the amount we are likely to receive and how the rate has been calculated. However, at the moment, this EYNFF calculator is being updated to reflect the Government response to the early years funding consultation.
I am aware that in some areas providers will receive more money than current allocations, but there is also the possibility that this could be less. Until these amounts are finalised, providers cannot realistically plan for the future. This is not a good way to run a business and can make providers feel very vulnerable. There is no shortage of publicity about settings which have already closed this year due to financial pressures.
There will be a lot of work for myself and the rest of the team in working out how we manage the allocation of the extra hours. This will include consideration of how to minimise the financial losses and how to physically fit more children into the setting. At the moment, our occupancy is high and there are very few hours available. This may result in parents using other settings, although in this area most nurseries are similarly full.
There will be a number of parents who will not be eligible for the 30 hours of funding, including those who choose not to return to work whilst their child is young. The nursery staff will need to understand the eligibility criteria and advise parents on their options. This will involve training and discussions and could result in parents feeling resentful towards staff if they cannot use the 30 hours.
On the surface, the provision of 30 free hours funding sounds like a brilliant idea. However, if you dig deeper, the reality and implications are far more daunting…
About the author
Wendy Taylor has 40 years’ experience of working with young children, including early years teaching, lecturing, deputy manager of a local Children’s Centre and as the Chief Examiner for CACHE. She is also a co-author of books for students on foundation degree courses and currently manages a day nursery in St Albans, which is attached to Oaklands College.