Take twos...opportunities for everyone

James Hempsall
Friday, November 23, 2012

The extension of the free entitlement to around 40 per cent of all two-year-olds from 2014 will need a significant increase in the number of places so that approximately 260,000 children will be able to benefit. James Hempsall urges childcare providers across all sectors to look at the opportunities this will bring

This new revenue stream can be used to fill empty places, increase occupancy levels, expand and/or set up new provision to meet the growing demand. Now is the time for nurseries to start thinking about the potential for individual or multiple sites, undertaking research, and working in partnership with the local authority and other settings including children's centres.

Pebbles at Stoneygate is a good example of being pro-active. It has operated from Stoneygate Children's Centre in Preston city centre since 2007 - a partnership between the school nursery, children's centre and Caritas Care (a registered charity which delivers a variety of children and family services in the North West). Earlier this year Caritas Care was approached by the head of Children's Centre Services Stoneygate to consider undertaking a feasibility study to replicate its Preston model at Appletree Children's Centre in Lancaster.

Just like Stoneygate Children's Centre, Appletree has a school nursery offering free entitlement for threeand four-year-olds. The centre had identified that eligible families were not accessing the offer and it had a small dedicated space with access to outdoor space which could be registered to deliver 12 places for two-yearolds.

The charity says it is committed to supporting families and children, and a key feature of its strategic development plan is to sustain services where there remains a clear need, and to expand the scale in order to serve a greater number of people. The charity was willing to look at this opportunity, and undertook the feasibility study.

The research confirmed an existing need and increasing parental demand for places in the local area as the offer is extended between 2013 and 2015. Discussions held with the local authority and children's centre confirmed sufficient children to achieve good occupancy levels and fill enough places, ensuring the provision covered its startup costs and ongoing overheads.

The new provision, called Apple Blossom, opened its doors in September 2012. It offers morning and afternoon places for a maximum of 12 two-year-olds. It is very early days and Caritas Care is pleased with the occupancy level and attendance figures which have been achieved in the few weeks since opening. There currently are five children attending in the mornings and nine children in the afternoons. Caritas Care is confident occupancy levels will increase quickly as more families engage with the two-year-old offer as it becomes more widespread, with more funding, from April 2013.

Further information

James Hempsall is director of training and research provider Hempsalls (www.hempsalls.com)

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