May 15th, 2015 by Sarah Steel
Well, the general election is finally over and we have a new all-Conservative government, who made the manifesto pledge to increase the number of funded hours for ‘working parents’ of 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours per week. Childcare has already been mentioned in David Cameron’s outline plan for the next Queen’s Speech, so it seems likely that this will be high on the agenda of ‘family friendly’ policies and their drive to ‘make work pay’. The whole Early Years sector has been very nervous about the various pledges to extend the number of funded hours, as the system is currently totally unsustainable. Although the childcare minister, Sam Gyimah (staying in post in the new administration) said back last year that he thought there was ‘no problem’ with the funding system, David Cameron and Boris Johnson did announce in the last week of the election campaign that there would be a review of the funding for early years entitlement.
Sector representative, like the NDNA, will be campaigning hard to be involved in shaping any reform of the funding system, to ensure that nurseries do not continue to subsidise government policy and that a minimum rate per hour is guaranteed to providers. Do follow the debate and join the conversation – there is more information about the NDNA’s childcare challenge on their website www.ndna.org.uk.
April 20th, 2015 by Sarah Steel
There have been so many headlines over the last couple of weeks about what each political party is going to do for parents and children. The National Day Nurseries Association have done a great round up, so you can see what it might mean to you.
April 15th, 2015 by Sarah Steel
This week has seen the launch of all parties’ election manifestos and it’s been interesting to see how high up the list childcare has come for the 3 main parties. Yesterday, the Tories probably gave us the biggest surprise when they pledged to double free sessions for 3 and 4 year olds to offer 30 hours per week for ‘working families’. However, the devil will be in the detail – the current offer is universal, so not linked to whether you work or not. Will any extension be the same, or will it somehow be ‘means tested’. Will the funding mess be sorted out, as the current system is completely unsustainable – any increase in under-funded hours will undoubtedly see nursery closures.
This press release from the NDNA outlines the very real risks to the sector. The usual maxim seems to apply in this instance – they’re all as bad as each other!
April 1st, 2015 by Sarah Steel
Now that we have gone into pre-election Purdah, we are expecting to hear more than ever from our politicians about childcare as they launch their manifestos. To date both Labour and the Lib Dems are promising to expand the ‘free entitlement’, which is great for parents but a disaster for nursery providers as none of them have indicated an interest in sorting out the mess that is nursery funding already, never mind an increase. We’ve just heard from Oxfordshire County Council that our funding for 3 year olds will increase by a whole 6p from £3.90 to £3.96 and in Gloucestershire from £3.25 to £3.50 per hour. The fact that our fees for an hour for a 3 year old would be between £4 and £5 per hour depending on location, is totally irrelevant. So, inevitably, working parents buying additional sessions for 3 year olds, or those with under-3s, end up paying higher fees, to allow us to balance our books.
This article in The Guardian explains very clearly where childcare fees goes and is a very familiar story.
I will be waiting to see what all the parties say about childcare funding before placing my vote on 7th May. The All party select committee report last week couldn’t have been clearer; funding needs reform and the parties have no excuse any more in saying they don’t know it is a problem. Let’s hope someone out there is listening……
February 20th, 2015 by Sarah Steel
Yesterday saw many TV and radio stations holding discussions about the cost of childcare and the plans for the Liberal Democrats to extend the number of hours of free funding available to parents. As the election campaign moves into the final straight, we are likely to hear a lot more of this. Working parents, in particular, seem to be a key target for all the parties and offering more funded hours seems to be a guaranteed vote winner. However, whilst parents might be happy at this proposal, providers are seriously concerned, due to the chronic underfunding of the current system of ‘free entitlement; sessions. I have blogged about this many times and we are currently looking at how we can cope with the minimal increases or even freezing of funding levels on 1st April this year, whilst the national minimum wage continues to climb.
National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) released an excellent response yesterday, which I include here, to save me repeating myself!
“NDNA is calling for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s proposed extension to free childcare to be fairly funded so that nurseries can deliver it sustainably.
At present, parents of three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, are offered 15 free hours’ childcare per week in termtime.
Nick Clegg pledged today to extend this to all children of working parents aged between nine months and two years and universally for all two year olds. He also said Liberal Democrats aimed to increase free provision to 20 hours in the longer term.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “We welcome this commitment to provide more free childcare to families but there is a chronic underfunding issue with this provision so any extension must be thoroughly costed so that it can be delivered without making provision unsustainable.
“The money that childcare providers currently receive to deliver free hours falls short by an average of £800 per child per year for each funded three to four-year-old place and £700 for each two-year-old place.
“This is the biggest single reason that nursery fees are rising for some paying parents who end up subsidising the free places.”
NDNA’s recent Annual Nursery Survey called for a long-term review of the complex early education and childcare funding system. At present, funding for free places varies between local authority areas but averages at £3.80 per child per hour.
Miss Tanuku said: “Nurseries are being forced to increase their fees to parents who pay for additional hours, or for younger children not eligible for funded places, to make up the funding shortfall.
“For most nurseries, the average sum received of £3.80 per hour does not cover the cost of high-quality childcare, let alone make a surplus.”
Miss Tanuku also welcomed Mr Clegg’s commitment to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per child and to work towards having a member of staff with Qualified Teacher Status in every childcare setting by 2020.
She said: “NDNA fully supports moves to increase the skills and qualifications of people who work in early years settings but for this to be achievable there needs to be more government investment into training and development for early years workforces, particularly in the nursery sector.”
NDNA is calling on the next government to raise the bar through its Childcare Challenge to address the affordability, quality and choice of childcare and really make a difference for the sector, children and families. Among the solutions that NDNA is recommending are to:
• Protect early education funding so it can only be spent on under-fives
• Work with the early years sector to ensure any commitments to expand free hours are thoroughly costed so they can be delivered without making provision unsustainable and reducing choice for parents
• Commit to a long-term review of the overly complex early education and childcare funding system.”
If you are interested in finding out more, do read NDNA’s Annual Nursery Surveys for England, Scotland and Wales here: http://www.ndna.org.uk/news/ndna-surveys/NDNA+Annual+Nursery+Survey+2015
I will be continuing to comment as the election campaign gets underway and will keep trying to ensure you are aware of the issues from all sides.