Local authorities can currently spend some of their early years grant on funding qualified teachers (with QTS) and recruits with Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), in settings where the free entitlement is offered.
But this freedom is conspicuously absent from the Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF) papers, currently out for consultation.
Commentators point out that ‘quality costs’, and exactly how settings will be able to afford the highest qualified staff remains to be seen.
Both PVI and maintained settings are worried that the supplement will not feature on the final EYNFF list, to be published by the Department for Education (DfE) after the public response has been considered.
‘We are concerned by the DfE's plans to remove the option of quality supplements from local authority funding formulas,’ said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance.
'Many councils use this to support providers employing a graduate member of staff and so, given the Government's desire to move towards a graduate-led workforce, removing this option seems a contradictory and retrograde step.’
Although the funding consultation briefly mentions a £5m ‘quality and expertise’ fund, there is no information on ‘what this is actually for and who might be eligible’.
Mr Leitch said that in an ideal world government would provide enough funding in the base rate for graduates.
‘Quality costs, and without the necessary financial support, the Government ambition of a consistently high quality sector led by graduate professionals is simply not sustainable,’ he added.
The fund would be targeted in deprived areas, in addition to the EYNFF allocation.
‘What's more, at just £5m a year – less than half of EYPP [Early Years Pupil Premium] funding – this is only likely to stretch so far,’ continued Mr Leitch.
Under the proposals, the ‘local area funding supplements’ that local authorities will pay to settings, would cover deprivation, rural areas, flexibility, efficiency, and ’30 hours delivery’.
The DfE has guaranteed no nursery would be more than 10 per cent worse off as a result of the new system, which may be comfort for some.
However, the potential impact of any loss of the quality supplement has arguably already been tested in Kent, where uncertainty over the tightening of funding criteria, led to one setting losing its QT.
The nursery group’s chief executive, who did not wish to be named, said the extra 90p (hourly rate per child) the county council pays for a ‘qualified leader’, had been by far the largest of the available supplements.
This had bolstered his £3.91 base rate for free early years education and funded the QT post.
The 90p boost compares to the 30p for EYTS qualified carers, and the 5p rewarding ‘flexibility’.
The nursery boss said a letter from the local authority earlier this year, had sent a strong signal that his setting would no longer be eligible for the qualified leader supplement.
While the proposed changes have now been put off until March 2017, his QT could not cope with the uncertainty, and found another job.
‘We’ve lost our most qualified member of staff and it will impact on quality of provision, but also our sustainability, because it was a funded post,’ said the chief executive, adding, ‘If the DfE’s proposals go through as per their consultation then local authorities won’t be able to offer providers quality supplements, which will impact quality and sustainability.’
Around 20 settings in Kent employ QTs, but not all the remainder want to employ them.
Another private setting in the county said they deliberately do not recruit them because the huge salary difference would be ‘unfair’ on the other staff.
In the manager’s opinion, her staff are well qualified and already offering high quality care.
Maintained nursery schools are worried about their future ability to recruit qualified teachers.
According to the DfE’s benchmarking tool, last year, Kent’s maintained settings received £6.75 an hour per child, compared to last year’s PVI rate of £4.11, and £4.36 this year.
Estimates suggest that under the EYNFF, by 2019/2020, when the new levels are fully rolled out, the rate will be closer to £4.25 across all the county’s settings, including maintained nurseries.
One head teacher said, ‘If there was no funding for qualified teachers, we wouldn’t be able to recruit qualified teachers. It all depends on how much it’s going to be.
‘There’s a consultation, so we can’t assume anything. Hopefully the Government will listen to what nursery schools are saying.’
Commenting on the qualified leader funding, Alex Gamby, head of early years and childcare at Kent County Council, said, ‘[We have] not altered the funding rates for qualified teachers in nursery settings.
‘KCC currently offers a Quality Leader supplement of 90p where an Early Years setting offering the Free Early Education Entitlement employs a qualified teacher on statutory Teachers’ Terms and Conditions 2015.
‘The number of early years providers employing qualified teachers in this way has increased recently and it is important that these providers comply with Teachers’ Terms and Conditions in order to qualify for the increased rate.
‘We provide support to Early Years providers to help them check their employment policies, processes and procedures against the necessary standards.
‘There have been no changes to Kent’s current Provider Agreement or Funding.’
A spokesperson said the council is currently formulating its response to the DfE’s EYNFF consultation.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'We are investing a record £6 billion in childcare by 2020, including a £300m increase to the average rate paid to providers across the country for our two, three and four-year-old offers.
'Our funding rates were informed by the most comprehensive analysis of the childcare market ever conducted, and the vast majority of councils and providers will see increases in their average hourly funding rates, not decreases.'