It’s a huge week ahead for the future of the United Kingdom. By the end of the week we will know who our Prime Minister is for the foreseeable future; and which political party (or parties in the case of a coalition) will navigate the country through the next steps regarding Brexit.
Over the past few years, since the introduction of the 15 and then the 30 “free” hours of childcare, many early years organisations have been campaigning for the government to address the huge financial challenges they face. In more recent weeks, the quality vs. quantity argument in early years education has grown, as the competition hots up to see which political party can offer the most “free” childcare.
Ahead of the General Election this week, here’s our round up of what the main political parties are promising childcare providers.
Let’s start with the incumbent…
The Conservatives are focusing mainly on assisting parents by increasing childcare to be available during the school holidays – a first for government. This is intended to give 250,000 extra childcare places for primary school-age children, which equates to approximately 5% of the total of that age-group, costing £250 million per year for three years.
Labour promises a two-term strategy to make high-quality early years education available to every child, adding paid maternity leave to be extended to 12 months. Within five years, it promises that all 2, 3 and 4-year-olds will be entitled to 30 hours of free preschool education per week, with access to additional hours offered at affordable, subsidised rates which will be staggered according to income.
The Liberal Democrats expect to extend the free childcare to every child aged between 2 and 4, and also for children aged from 9 months to 24 months for working parents and carers. They will extend the existing 30 hours to 35 hours per week for 48 weeks a year, with increased funding to cover the cost of nursery provision plus increasing Early Years Pupil Premium to give more help to disadvantaged families.
In summary, the importance of making early years childcare available during school holidays – from the Conservatives’ manifesto – sounds attractive, but will depend on primary schools being available as this service will be mainly provided by school-based providers.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are offering more funded and easily accessible childcare, but care needs to be taken regarding the quality of this.
Source: The Parliamentary Review
Flaws found in the main parties’ education manifestos
Announced last Friday, 6th December, is the news that flaws have been found in the main three parties’ manifestos when it comes to free school meals.
According to a report by the politically neutral Education Policy Institute (EPI), Labour and the Liberal Democrats have underestimated the cost of expanding free school meals while Conservatives’ extra funding will not close the disadvantage gap.
Read the full story here
Despite an order by the Information Commissioner (ICO), the Department for Education has refused to publish how it calculated its funding rates for the 30 hours childcare.
We reported last month on the encouraging news that DfE ministers were ordered by the Information Commissioner to reveal their calculation methods – the “spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation” – behind the rates paid to local authorities, used for free and subsidised nursery places. However, the deadline of 14th November has been and gone – and the funding rate calculations have not been published.
The ICO’s ruling followed a long ‘Freedom of Information’ dispute and was hailed as a triumph for the early years sector as it would shed light on the apparent disparity between the true cost to providers, and the DfE’s rate. However, The Early Years Alliance has revealed that The DfE is appealing the ruling, describing the decision as “shameful”.
Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said “The Department for Education clearly has some serious questions to answer about its childcare policy – but rather than taking this as an opportunity to prove once and for all that its approach to early years funding has been fair and adequate, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money trying to hide information that should be available to all. This is a shameful decision by the government, and one we urge them to reconsider.”
The organisation also asked for proof that the rates set by government in 2015 – which came into effect in 2017 and were frozen until 2020 – were calculated to be enough to cover rising business costs over that time period. However, The DfE argued that this information formed part of the development of government policy and that the need to keep it private “outweighed the public interest in releasing it”, said the Alliance.
Ofsted recently revealed that on average more than 500 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders closed every month in the financial year ending March 2019.
Early years settings should be able to ban sugary and junk food from lunchboxes, according to a new survey.
The poll, carried out by daynurseries.co.uk, which questioned 1,000 nursery owners, managers and staff, found that 73% are in favour of nurseries being able to ban sugary food and junk food from children’s lunchboxes. Over a quarter (27%) of those who took part in the survey claimed that there are children who they consider to be obese in their nursery.
The latest NHS data from weighing and measuring children in schools shows that in Reception class (four and five-year-olds) 22.6% of children are overweight or obese (135,020 children), that’s a 0.2% increase on the year before.
Of these, 2.4% are severely obese (14,495 children) – the same as the previous year – and a further 9.7% are obese (57,869 children), up on the 9.5% in 2017/18.
Sue Learner, editor of daynurseries.co.uk, said: “It is shocking that one in 10 children start school obese. Pre-school years can be instrumental in helping form eating habits that can stay with a person for life, so it is vital nurseries play a part in educating children on healthy eating.
“I think it is good for nurseries to give guidance on what should be in children’s lunchboxes as it can be confusing for parents, as some seemingly healthy yoghurts have as much as a teaspoon of sugar in them. But giving information and advice is very different from a full-scale ban.
“It can be hard for parents who are often time-poor and I am as guilty as the next parent for slipping a bag of crisps or a cookie into my son’s lunchbox.
“I think it is fine to discourage parents from giving their children sugary and fatty food, but relationships between the nursery and parent may be put in jeopardy by a draconian approach.”
Amy Alderson, operations director of Tops Day Nurseries, said they ask parents to avoid bringing in high fat and processed foods such as sausage rolls and pork pies.
“We believe that we have a responsibility to help educate children and parents on the impacts of high sugar and fatty foods and encourage them to choose healthier alternatives,” she said.
The Living Wage Foundation has announced that the new threshold for the real living hourly wage in the UK has increased to £9.30 in the UK overall, and £10.75 in London.
This equates to an increase of 30p per hour in the UK, and 20p in London. Rates have gone up in line with private rental costs, which increased faster in the country as a whole than in the capital.
Childcare costs have also risen faster outside London.
Interestingly, the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is now over £2,000 across the UK, and almost £5,000 in the capital.
The Living Wage Foundation has campaigned for a higher minimum wage rate since 2011, based on independently-calculated estimates of the amount workers would need to cover basics for everyday life. Former chancellor George Osborne re-branded the existing national minimum wage for over-25s as the National Living Wage in 2015, but rates themselves remained the same. The government-set threshold for over-25s is currently £8.21 per hour, incrementally decreasing by age group to £4.35 per hour for under 18s.
Encouragingly, around 210,000 people are paid at this voluntary level, and so are set for a pay increase.
However, recent research by HIS Markit has found that 5.2 million workers are still paid under the level recommended by the Living Wage Foundation.
Living Wage Foundation director Katherine Chapman said, “In this time of uncertainty today’s new Living Wage rates give a boost to hundreds of thousands of UK workers. Good businesses know that the real Living Wage means happier, healthier and more motivated workers, and that providing workers with financial security is not only the right thing to do, but has real business benefits”.
Press release from Milton Hall Montessori
Children, parents and staff at Milton Hall Montessori raised a fantastic £125.31 for BBC Children in Need this last week.
The School raised the funds through selling raffle tickets to win a prize of a £30 meal voucher kindly donated by The Real Greek Restaurants. As well as a fabulous cake sale of doughnuts, cupcakes, brownies, mince pies and carrot cakes which raised additional funds for the Charity.
The children really enjoyed the week of fundraising and were encouraged to participate in the cake sale after great discussion regarding children less fortunate than themselves, to always help others when they can and realising that kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give.
All of the children were proud of their cake sale.