Nursery Management: Flexible Provision - Filling the gap

Parents' call for flexible daycare has been answered by nursery networks that offer emergency places and extended opening hours. Simon Vevers investigates.

With research showing that one in three people works outside ofconventional office hours, partly due to the growth of the servicesector, it is little surprise that the demand for flexible childcareloomed large in local authorities' recent sufficiency assessments.

James Hempsall, who runs a specialist training, research and consultancybusiness for the early years sector, has studied more than 40assessments. He says he has 'yet to see an assessment that does nothighlight the need for flexible childcare'. But he believes this termstraddles a range of childcare arrangements to suit family needs - fromemergency, ad hoc care to overnight and weekend provision.

'We cannot expect "flexible" to be a catch-all term,' says Mr Hempsall.'It's critically important that all childcare providers are able tobalance a flexible offer with meeting the needs of parents and childrenwhile sustaining their business.'

He reckons it is easier for childminders to offer that flexibility, andadds that 'childminding networks have been pioneers of responsive andflexible care'. However, he welcomes moves by other settings to workcollaboratively and develop networks to meet the need for greaterflexibility.

'Networking should not be just an expectation we place on childminders.All types of settings should listen to what parents and children aresaying and play their part in the childcare mix,' Mr Hempsall says.

There appears to be plenty of scope for growth in this area. Recentresearch by the Centre for Future Studies on behalf of BT showed that 46per cent of UK firms offer flexible working, compared with 86 per centof Spanish companies.

In Germany and Sweden, 90 per cent of firms offer flexible workingarrangements.

There is also comparatively little teleworking from home in the UK, withonly 20 per cent of employees engaged in this practice.

UK parents' demand for flexibility was articulated in last year'sgovernment-backed report from the Daycare Trust, Listening to Families,which revealed a desire for nurseries to be more flexible in theiropening times, with calls for evening and weekend care options.

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