To meet what is a dramatic increase in demand, we need to understand occupancy levels, map out attendance patterns, and identify gaps that can be filled flexibly.
This way, we can maximise the spare capacity in the system, take advantage of previously unused blocks of time, and identify ways in which expansion can be achieved - benefiting from the new government funding available to us.
Woodlands is an Ofsted outstanding, 50-place full-day care nursery established in 2006. It operates from seven rooms in a large detached house in Timperley, Cheshire. The nursery is open each weekday, all year round, from 8am to 6pm. The families using the nursery access full-time and part-time places. Woodlands is actively engaged in delivering places for eligible two-year-olds and through a flexible approach is able to meet both parental requirements and manage its sustainability.
The number of eligible two-year-olds and their attendance patterns varies from day to day. There are no fixed two-year-old session times and the nursery does not designate specific places for funded two-year-olds either. It has found that for most families, a stretched offer has been more suitable. When a family requires a two-year-old place, the staff team work with them to find an attendance pattern that suits both parental requirement and supports the nursery's sustainability.
The most popular attendance model chosen by families over the past 12 months has been 7.5 hours a week all year round, divided into differing lengths of time (within the requirements of the statutory guidance). Surprisingly, the hours of 2pm to 5.30pm have proved very popular with families.
Taking a flexible approach and stretching the offer is reported to have benefits for all involved at the nursery.
Woodlands is supporting parents to maximise the use of their child's entitlement. Children have established peer groups and sound relationships with key people through regular attendance. The stretched offer provides consistency across the year without the breaks for holiday, unlike the traditional term-time offer. By being creative with attendance times and patterns, the nursery is also able to maximise its occupancy and utilise quieter times, meet individual family requirements, and meet the increasing demand for places for two-year-olds. It certainly is another interesting model to reflect on.
James Hempsall is director of training and research provider Hempsalls (www.hempsalls.com)