Posts Tagged ‘government policy’

What these election promises really mean……

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!


A busy day in the news for childcare….

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.

Purnima on BBC Breakfast
“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:

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.



The BBC headlined a new report last week, which claimed that school nurseries were better for the most disadvantaged children. As always, the devil is in the detail, and this report makes it very clear that employing staff who have a graduate level education makes the difference.

Within The Old Station Nursery group we are constantly evaluating our staff training programme and looking at how we can add most value to the children in our settings. Last year we revised our criteria for new entrants to the company and decided that a minimum qualification of a GCSE in English and Maths was essential.  We are now looking ahead at how we develop the graduates within the team as well, to ensure that we have enough of them in key positions to lead our teams and drive quality upwards consistently.

At the moment we are about to embark on the NDNA’s ‘Maths Champion’ programme, to identify a leader in each setting, or if necessary, between 2 settings, who will lead development of maths activities. Often lack of staff confidence in maths can mean that this area is neglected, or is certainly not a ‘favourite’, so we are looking forward really turning the spotlight on this.  For more information see:

So, whilst schools might be great places for some children, day nurseries will continue to offer an alternative which we believe can be at least as good. Many children thrive in the more homely environment we can offer and we will continue to demonstrate that it is the quality of the workforce who matter, not whether the building is a school or nursery.


Do we really want our 2 year olds in school?

April 15th, 2014 by Sarah Steel



Following on from last week’s announcement by Sir Micheal Wilshaw that school was the best place for 2 year olds, there has been some really interesting comment in the press.

Here is just one article that suggests that the Head of Office and our Childcare Minister are not universally supported by the experts!






I have just returned from a few days away with my family, to a plethora of articles and comment on last week’s OFSTED report on Early Years provision. I had a taste of what was to come as I read the Sunday Times last week, which warned that parents were to hear how nurseries and childminders were failing their children. Then I caught a comment on line mid-week, with an exasperated nursery manager objecting to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comment that nurseries were full of ‘the least able caring for the most vulnerable’.

Suffice it to say, I have been simmering gently ever since then.  My humour has hardly improved having read the report in more detail; how can OFSTED make a complete **** up of the nursery inspection regime over the last year, resulting in a significant number of inspection downgrades, most of which are currently being appealed by outraged operators? Not surprisingly, this has lead to an increase in the number of nurseries graded ‘inadequate’ – many of which have dropped from ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ due to highly questionable judgments by ill-informed inspectors. Sir Michael Wilshaw then further compounded the inevitable statistics by deciding that ‘satisfactory’ was actually no longer satisfactory, so everyone who previous sat on the right side of the ‘quality line’ has now become not good enough, with the grading being changed to ‘requires improvement’.  Next year, will he decide that ‘good’ is no longer ‘good’, thereby moving the statistics yet again?

However, one thing has come out of this week’s report. The Government, via our esteemed minister Ms Truss, has pinned its colours firmly to the mast; the best place for 2 year olds is in school. Our smallest children, whom many would see as little more than babies, some of whom are only just walking unaided and all of whom are in nappies, should be in class rooms. The Academies agenda has just been extended yet further, to encompass all bar our under-2s. Wilshaw refers to the large and varied group of experts as ‘the chattering classes’ for daring to suggest that we already push our children in to school to early.

I feel a mixture of real sadness and utter frustration that Wilshaw and Truss between them can dismiss such a large expert body with such a lack of respect.  I for one would like to call for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the pair of them. I am proud to be part of a dedicated and professional Early Years sector and hope that I am sufficiently open-minded to weigh up the research and experience of the real experts, who believe that pre-school children should be in specialist ‘pre-school’ environments. For our political leaders – the clue is in the name, ‘pre-school’.


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