Major chain seeks review in protest at funding rates

One of the largest nursery groups in the country has launched a petition calling for the Government to urgently review funding for three- and four-year-olds, after losing more than 10 per cent on the hourly rate at one of its settings.

One of the largest nursery groups in the country has launched a petition calling for the Government to urgently review funding for three- and four-year-olds, after losing more than 10 per cent on the hourly rate at one of its settings.

Tops Day Nurseries owns 17 nurseries and receives funding from eight local authorities across Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset. It provides more than 1,300 nursery places.

Its petition calls for the Government to urgently review the funding and not wait until 2017, after the chain received news that for most of its nurseries, funding will not rise this year. It has also written to local authorities and MPs.

The biggest impact will be for the group’s Parkstone setting in Poole, where changes to the way the deprivation supplement is calculated will mean a loss in funding of 10.8 per cent for this financial year and an overall loss of £4,417.

In 2015/16 all of the 35 funded three- and four-year-olds on roll in the Parkstone nursery, funded by Poole Borough Council, were benefiting from a deprivation supplement of 45p per child, paid if 30 per cent or more identified children were attending a setting. (The deprivation supplement for 2015/16 was based on the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index. The setting received the deprivation supplement for all three- and four-year-olds across three terms.) Last year, Tops’ other nursery in Poole was also able to benefit from a 20p deprivation supplement, paid because 20-30 per cent of identified children were attending.

However, the council has changed the formula for allocating the deprivation supplement for 2016/17. While the rate has increased to 80p per child, only ten children in the Parkstone setting are now eligible for this supplement because it is allocated per child and not to the whole setting. This means that effectively the nursery’s funding rate for three- and four-year-olds has dropped from £4.16 an hour to £3.71.

Poole Borough Council confirmed that for summer 2016, deprivation supplements are being paid for 30 per cent of the three- and four-year-olds in its area taking up free early education places.

Vicky Wales, head of children, young people and learning at Borough of Poole, said, ‘There has been no cut to free early education funding overall in Poole this year. Following extensive consultation with providers, changes were made in April to the way the funding is distributed. This involved changes to the way in which the deprivation supplement is paid, allowing children most in need to benefit. With any change to the funding formula, some settings will gain and some will lose funding according to the profile of children they have attending.’

Tlchad0010ops’ managing director Cheryl Hadland (pictured) said, ‘We only got some of the new rates last week. From 1 April we’ve had to do a fee change because of the National Living Wage.’

She said the group usually puts its fees up in September because the National Minimum Wage rises in October, but had brought the fee increase – 4p an hour –forward because of the NLW.

Ms Hadland said she expected councils to up their early years funding because of the NLW, but this has not been the case. For example, the rates from Dorset County Council and Bournemouth Council have stayed the same at £3.65 and £3.95 an hour respectively. Tops’ Havant setting receives the highest rate, which has stayed at £4.34. In Winchester, funding has risen from £4.13 to £4.22. Tops receives the least funding for its Corfe Mullen and Gillingham settings – £3.62 an hour.

The group recently wrote to parents to tell them that from May it will be introducing a charge for ‘general extras’ for all three- and four-year-olds accessing nursery education funding for extra activities and facilities, such as yoga, music and movement, football Friday, and snack food.

‘We do lots of things that are extra –snacks, yoga – we don’t want to separate children,’ Ms Hadland said. ‘We like to offer children different things, like low-sugar snacks. Do we do the absolute minimum? We want to treat every child the same.’

Ms Hadland added, ‘We have already contacted the local authorities to express our concern about being able to stay sustainable, and importantly offer the flexible, quality childcare that parents have become accustomed to. The local authority claim the Government aren’t increasing their funding and so they cannot pass on any further increases, while the Government blame the local authorities, yet use data from 2010 to assess what should be paid.

‘It’s time that we, and my colleagues from other nurseries across the South, join forces to petition the politicians who claim they are working to provide families with more support, while at the same time making it harder for nurseries to be able to deliver that.’

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