The Govt election promise was to offer 30 hours 'free' childcare to support working parents... they are now talking about 30 hours publicly funded childcare which will be available for working parents from September 2017 - note DfE are not calling it 'free' any more!!
I think providers need to think very carefully about how it might impact on their businesses and what they can do to remain sustainable. It has to work – we don’t have an option if we want to keep our 3 and 4 year olds in our provisions because 30 hours a week is a heck of a lot of time to lose them to other providers.
In the first instance it might seem insurmountable – 30 hours childcare for 3 and 4 year olds which must be free for the child. Double the hours currently offered – which will mean in an average week if we currently have 2 children receiving the 15 funded hours offer, we will only be able to take 1 child for 30 hours.
The Government has stated that they are going to ask LAs to work with providers who deliver the hours flexibly and are willing to stretch the funding over term time and holiday weeks … that might make it easier for us to juggle ratios because 30 hours a week term time (38 weeks) will equate to around 22 hours a week stretched and most of us can conjure up 22 hours a week for 2 children.
However, even recognising that we can be flexible and offer places to the children, we still have to think about the financial impact of the 30 hours on our already stretched budgets. I asked some colleagues to tell me their biggest financial concerns for the future and this is the list they came up with –
- Pensions and National Living Wage for staff
- Floor space and ratios limits in the EYFS impact on how many children childminders can take
- Increasing rateable values for nursery properties – despite the recommendation from Central government to local government that nurseries should be exempt
- Local authority planning permission concerns if childminders try to offer flexibility to parents
- Training and CPD costs are increasing and well qualified staff are not cheap to employ
- Increasing costs of everything – food, consumables, rents, utilities etc
- Extra charges such as DBS checks, Ofsted fees which might be due to increase, ICO registration, waste removal costs in some Local Authorities etc…
What can we do to mitigate these spiralling costs and welcome funded 3 and 4 year olds positively?
DfE has made it very clear in their newly published information and business sustainability advice that we can charge for extras, as long as they are not conditional on the child getting the funded place, for example –
- If parents want wrap around care so they can take their funded hours in another setting, publish your day rate – they can choose whether to use you or not.
- Give parents the choice of whether to provide food for their child or charge them for it - provide a leaflet about your healthy food and drink policy - and make sure you charge for extra food you have to provide if the child does not arrive with healthy options.
- Charge for outings – publish your costs so there is no confusion and add them to the invoice as a ‘voluntary contribution’ which parents can cross off if they wish.
- Make sure parents provide nappies, wipes and nappy bags for their child’s use – explain to parents that if they forget to bring them, you will charge them.
- Try to think flexibly – how can you fit a child who is taking some or all of their funded hours with you around other children in the provision?
- Publish higher fees for the extra hours parents are buying from you (in addition to their funded hours)
- Budget your funding money carefully so you have money put aside if the child does not attend and the Local Authority wants some of their advance back.
One large nursery group I was reading about has said it is going to put together a leaflet explaining that the 30 hours are free to parents and there is a package of extra services they can choose to buy if they want to, including food, additional activities for the children, nappies and wipes and extra purchased hours. If parents choose not to pay for these extra services they will have to limit how many funded children they take at a time.
The Govt have put together a new company called Childcare Works to provide us with further guidance. This Nursery World article says the website will be available soon.
You can find more advice about the 30 hours including a sample invoice, healthy eating for parents guide and information about what to say to parents in this FREE information guide from Childcare.co.uk.
It will be important to keep an eye on new developments - the Govt is spending a lot of money to provide us with support and, according to this Nursery World article, childminders are generally feeling more upbeat about the situation... I am trying to look at it positively - and I hope colleagues will too!