Nurseries speak out on how 30 hours will affect them

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, June 15, 2015

With the Childcare Bill now progressing through Parliament, the right of all working parents of three- and four-year-olds to 30 hours of free childcare a week from 2016 is well on the way to being enacted.

The new Government has wasted no time in pressing on with the Conservatives' key election pledge.

Pilots of the scheme will start from September 2016 in some areas, a year earlier than planned.

While the plans are popular with many working parents and a clear vote-winner, there are major concerns for early years settings, and these vary between different types of provision.

Ministers have promised a funding review, but what other practical considerations should the new taskforce, set up to oversee the proposal, consider? We asked some providers to share their thoughts.

Yvonne Arkley, Manager, Cotherstone Pre-School, Barnard Castle, County Durham

'We have a really small community. We have 13 children and a lot are moving up to Reception next year. We're a charity run by a voluntary committee.

'The 30 hours could be a great thing for us, but how do we make it viable? We're open 30 hours but just in school time, 9am-3pm currently. Parents who need different hours tend to go to a different pre-school.

'If I look at our parents, there are definitely parents who would see it (free 30 hours) as a godsend.

I'm a mum of five and was a social worker for 17 years, so I needed longer hours, but how do we maintain it? The funding just covers the costs, but we need to make sure we can cover the low times. I do feel pre-school education is underfunded a lot of the time.

'Nursery workers should be paid more and have professional status.

'There are staffing implications. A lot of the staff have families and pick their children up from school. We're on a primary school site so I was thinking of approaching the school to see if we could offer a more wraparound service with them.

'I do have concerns about children being in settings for longer hours and not being at home as much. Some parents struggle to be parents and 30 hours is a long time for children. This generation is not learning how to parent. What cost will that have? It could have a detrimental effect on future families.'

Ken McArthur, Owner, Polly Anna's Nursery, York

polly-anna-s

'One of the things that free childcare has done is opened up daycare to a whole range of families. When we opened in 1997 it was only really doctors and accountants who could use it. It was unusual for women to go back to work. We now have flexible working. I looked back at my figures for the early 2000s and the average occupancy was about 30 hours a week; now it's more like 25 hours.

'People don't use full-time childcare as much as before. There's more flexibility about returning to work, childcare is so expensive, and people are using more informal childcare, like grandparents. Average occupancy now is less than 25 hours.

'To me, it's back to the future. We're a 50-place nursery and looking at the number of children on roll, in the early 2000s, we would have had 95 children on roll, now it's 110-120. Each individual child is attending for less time than they used to.

'Most of my families are working families and they have indicated that they may well increase the number of hours.

'I'm very enthusiastic about it. It's an opportunity for well-established early years providers to develop existing provision or expand to other areas. The biggest concern is in areas of deprivation, where you will need to have the funding to sustain you. It will benefit children's outcomes immensely.

'The funding has to be based on what the industry actually does. I have far more children on my books than the hours available, but it will happen gradually. The 30 hours don't frighten me, but the funding level, and the additional regulations, such as checking if it's working families or not, does.

'What I would like is a national standard rate for all early years provision, with a different rate for London. It should be a fixed figure the Government sets, not local authorities. We need some flexibility, as we have now, to meet families' needs, (to stretch the 38-week offer) so that parents don't get big bills over the holidays.'

Nicola Threlfall, Nursery class teacher and PE co-ordinator, Swansfield Park First School, Northumberland

'I'm a working mum so I absolutely understand the need for childcare. There are practicalities to consider with a school day, which is six and a quarter hours - for us, 8.45am to 3pm.

'We could start a bit earlier or a bit later, but practically that doesn't really work. It's like they plucked the number 30 out of the air. The number of hours does not bear any relation to a school day and it's only for 38 weeks and the vast majority of parents work throughout the year. PVIs will be able to spread the hours, but not all schools have holiday clubs and because they are self-funded, rather than school-funded, there are issues there. At the moment it's stretched, so it could be 22 hours a week. How does that fit with a school day?

'A number of schools do a morning and afternoon session, but I've not heard of schools that stretch the hours. Because it's targeted at where all parents are working I can't see how the stretching will work. Funding anything that gives hard-working parents an extra hand is great, getting something back for your taxes, but it's not quite as straight forward as doubling the hours. There's the logistics of supporting families so that they can only use the funding if they're working. That's not just about having a teacher and support staff; it's about admin costs too.

'The £3.20 capita rate is one of the lowest in the country and just about covers the cost of a cheap teacher.

'We currently have two 26-place sessions. There is a significant issue about space. There will need to be money put aside for more space. We currently have a mobile classroom for twos. If we weren't allocated more space we would have a second class at the expense of the two-year-olds places. We would be encouraged to keep the space for the funded twos, but we wouldn't physically have the space for the paying twos.'

Rebecca Martland Childminder, Worthing

'From a purely personal point of view, I would struggle to offer the full 30 hours as I only open 30 hours a week in total, over three days.

'I have a number of children who only come to me partial days, as most of them have older siblings at school so the parent fits around this.

'I would also lose 25 per cent of my income per child, so from a financial and business sustainability point of view it does not make sense for me to offer the full funding.

'Many childminders on the various forums and locally at drop-ins have been discussing deregistering from offering free entitlement, primarily due to the income loss but also dissatisfaction with local authorities' terms and conditions, late and incorrect payments and the overall funding level, as well as the logistics and practicalities of extending the hours.

'I suspect that what may happen is that where a child is currently accessing their 15 hours at one provider and the parent is then paying a second provider for additional hours, the parent will hope to use the additional 15 hours with the second provider. For example, I have a child who uses 15 hours funded at a pre-school and 10 hours with me, so under the proposed 30 hours they could have the 10 hours funded with me. I think this will be particularly relevant where the child attends a setting that only opens 15 hours a week, in the mornings.'

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