The Early Education and Childcare: operational guidance, which was first published in April, has been updated to provide more clarification for providers and local authorities in response to feedback from those taking part in the 30-hours funded childcare pilot.
Under the heading ‘Meals, consumables and additional activities’, the updated guidance states, ‘Government funding is intended to deliver 15 to 30 hours a week of free, high-quality flexible childcare. It is not intended to cover the costs of meals, other consumables, additional hours or additional activities. Parents can therefore expect to pay for any meals offered by the provider. Parents can also expect to pay for other consumables or additional activities, such as nappies or trips.’
This is a change from the original document which stated that parents ‘can’ charge for meals and snacks as long as parents are not required to pay as a condition of taking up an extended entitlement place. No previous mention was given to charging for consumables or additional activities.
However, the guidance goes on to say that parents must be given alternative options, for example being able to bring in their own consumables or a packed lunch when the meal offered is not suitable for children with specific dietary needs or the parent prefers a ‘lower cost option’.
The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has argued that the updated guidance is unhelpful.
Chief executive Purnima Tanuku, said, ‘We are disappointed that despite our campaigning to raise this issue, the Department for Education has not really changed its stance on additional charges.
‘For many of our members, the only way they can make the 30 funded hours work is by charging parents for meals and other additional services. This is due to inadequate hourly funding rates that our nurseries get for their three and four-year-old children.
‘Although the guidance now states that parents can expect to pay for meals and other consumables, nurseries must offer alternatives for parents who want a low-cost option. This includes allowing them to bring in packed lunches.
‘This means these charges would still be voluntary, which is not conducive to running a business.
‘Many settings will not allow packed lunches for a variety of good reasons, so this guidance is just not helpful and provides no flexibility nurseries need to make 30 hours work.’
The updated guidance now also includes a specific chapter on childminders. Within the chapter it recognises that ‘childminders are a valuable part of the childcare sector’, and says it ‘[We] want to see them play a full role in delivery [of] all of the free entitlements.’
It goes on to say that there will be ‘several services that childminders can offer as part of a broader package alongside the free hours. These should be optional extras that parents can choose to pay for and could include offering to pick up or take children to nursery classes or playgroups (if these fall outside the free hours taken with the childminder), and covering the remaining time that the parent is at work.’
The guidance also says that childminders ‘may’ offer an ongoing call service as part of their offer to parents, for instance this may be offered while the child is at school and needs to be collected unexpectedly.
Sue McVay, director of partnerships at PACEY, said, ‘PACEY welcomes the updated operational guidance. It is an improvement on the previous version, and we are pleased to see a clearer acknowledgement of the vital role childminders could play in delivering all early years entitlements.
‘However, improved guidance can only go so far. The biggest barrier to providers offering “free” places remains the low hourly rate, particularly when the guidance makes is clear that any additional charges to parents must be strictly voluntary. PACEY research recently found that the average registered childminder is expected to experience a shortfall of over £400 per child, per year, for every 30-hour place they offer. As a priority, the Government must guarantee there is sustainable funding on a long-term basis for all funded places, including 30 hours.’
- Download the updated guidance here