Grasshoppers in the Park is an east London nursery where professional staff and parents work together, with the hope of providing cheaper childcare as more adults are available to help with the running of the setting.
It is said that up to 27% of a family’s income is taken up with childcare, with costs in London being a third higher than the rest of England. By having parents involved with the care provided at Grasshoppers, fees can be reduced.
The expectation is that families contribute in some way, whether that be DIY, getting involved with the daily walk, doing the laundry or providing help with admin tasks at the nursery.
Parents are also able to take on larger roles if they can, helping out in the classroom for a regular day each week. These ‘parents days’ allow for a £120 discount on fees. As well as the monetary discounts, it also gives parents the opportunity to see their children in a learning environment.
One mum, Katya, commits to one day each week in the nursery and says it gives her the chance to see what her son does whilst there. She said: “Parents and staff learn from each other.”
Director of Grasshoppers, Dafydd, says of the setting: “It is a real community.
“We pay over the odds, in a very low paying sector, and our staff are fantastic.”
The setting employs 5 members of staff, 4 of which have degrees, 2 of which are male. Only one member of staff has been replaced in the 4 years that the setting has been running.
The model of childcare used at Grasshoppers is popular in places such as Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. In the UK, however, these types of settings are still rare, and mostly situated in London.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is now working on providing a structure to help create nurseries of this kind, specifically in low income areas. They are working with the Family and Childcare Trust and are hoping the first pilot will launch in the spring.
Whether or not this model of childcare will work is still in question. Claire Schofield, director of membership, policy and communications at National Day Nurseries Association has said that whilst the private sector is always looking for ways to innovate, the level of care may be diluted as early years practitioners are dedicated specialists.
She said: “Having too many unqualified parents, however enthusiastic, may dilute this quality of provision for children.
“Creative solutions like co-production can be part of the picture to solve our childcare challenges, but can’t be a substitute for the major reforms to our childcare policy and funding needed to provide the volume of high-quality, affordable places that parents need.
“Most parents who choose childcare do work and may not be time-rich in this way.”
One employee has said, despite working in more traditional settings, this has been her favourite.
Faced with its own challenges, including insecure finances, the nursery also has concerns about the Government’s plans to raise ‘free’ childcare for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours per week to 30, as they will make a loss.