Council IT systems can’t cope with stretched hours

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Providers are having to manipulate claims for the funded hours because local authorities’ systems won’t allow for the 30- or 15-hour entitlements to be taken as stretched offers.

sunflowers

Sunflowers Day Nursery in Yorkshire says the system is 'administratively burdensome'

  • Nurseries having to fudge claims for stretched offer
  • One nursery owner has to ‘lie’ about when the setting is closed
  • Another has underclaimed money two years in a row

Kent

Debbie Gunn, owner of D-Dee’s Day Nursery in Faversham, Kent, said she has to lie on the council’s system and say that her setting is closed when it isn’t in order to receive the correct funding.

This is because she only offers the 30 hours as a stretched offer over 48 weeks of the year rather than 38, and is flexible about which weeks parents take up the entitlement.

She said, ‘I only offer the 30 hours stretched. Synergy [the system the council uses] doesn’t allow that. So I have to say I am shut on days I’m not. I only close on weekends and public holidays.

‘When I approached Kent County Council about this, they said that I would have to manipulate the system. However, they have been very helpful and recognise that there is a problem.’

Kent County Council told Nursery World that its system does allow providers to submit 30 hour claims under a stretched offer.

Providers under other local authorities which also use Synergy are reporting the same problems, including in North Yorkshire and East Sussex.

North Yorkshire

Bruce Warnes, owner of Sunflowers Day Nursery in North Yorkshire (pictured), said, ‘Because Synergy is based on termly calculations, it is not fit for purpose when a local authority tries to apply this to a full-year-round stretched offer.

‘By placing a limit on the number of weeks that a parent can claim in any given term, there is a mismatch between the number of funded hours that they will use and the number we can claim. This is administratively burdensome.

‘One solution that has been suggested would be to stretch the hours on a term-by-term basis, providing a different number of funded hours each term. Not only would this be more work in a system where there is already a massive administrative burden, it would also mean that parents who have specifically made a decision to work 22 hours a week because of the stretched offer would have fees to pay in some terms and potentially not use all their funded hours in others.

‘I cannot imagine for an instant that this is what the Government wanted from the scheme and it is another example of why they need to go right back to the drawing board and do this properly.’

The nursery’s manager, Heather Clark-Kelly, said, ‘There is a lot of room for error [with the council’s system].

‘It is a lot of maths. It’s really complicated. There’s an added complication if a child is stretched and changes throughout the year, for instance if they move to split their hours with a nursery in school.

‘You have to work out the amount of funding you should receive and then how to do it on the system.’

Mr Warnes added, ‘We are extremely fortunate that North Yorkshire County Council is fully committed to working with providers to find solutions to the challenges of the 30 funded hours scheme. The finance team are fully aware of the issues around this system and I understand that they are trying to work with the Department for Education to resolve this.’

Essex

Providers in Essex are also experiencing issues with the local authority’s system that they must use to claim funding.

Jayne and Chloe’s House, a nursery in Chelmsford, has lost money as a result of Essex County Council’s system ‘not being fit for purpose’.

The setting’s accountant, Ken Cocksedge, said, ‘The first two years [of claiming funding], we lost money as underclaimed.’

The council previously used Synergy before changing to Capita’s One Education System in 2016.

‘The difficulty comes when parents are stretching the 15 hours of funding, taking 10 hours a week over a 16-week period. The system doesn’t let you claim over 16 weeks, so it feels like you are fiddling something. But we have never over-claimed funding and the council are always quick to help if needed.

‘I don’t know what they will allow for the summer term as there are 22 weeks.’

Essex County Council told Nursery World that the system it uses ‘has the functionality available to manage stretched hours funding’.

All local authorities were contacted by Nursery World for a response.

ian-morganIan Morgan, right), a spokesperson for Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding (CNLF), said, ‘Because some local authorities’ management information systems cannot cope with stretched funding, they are limiting the number of hours claimable in a term, which has the net effect of parents not being able to claim their full entitlement.

‘This is yet again another example of how the 30 hours scheme was ill-thought-out and rushed through Parliament. The DfE and local authorities should have thought these things through prior to implementation; perhaps if they had listened to providers, these issues would never have materialised.’

Council responses

Kent County Council

Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet member for children, young people and Education, said, 'Kent County Council uses Synergy for the data collection of early years funding. Servelec was awarded the contract using the KCC [Kent County Council] procurement process for their product Synergy, which fully met the mandatory system specifications. Synergy does allow providers to submit 30 hour claims under a stretched offer. The provider enters their funded pattern of delivery into the system and this calculates the correct weekly hours to be claimed over the year.

'As with any new system it takes a while for all parties to fully embed all practices and processes. KCC has provided high quality guidance notes for providers and online telephone support. Further support is available from Childcare Sufficiency Officers, who will visit individual settings when requested.'

East Sussex County Council

‘While the Servelec Synergy system does support the stretched offer, we did experience some issues when we began testing, using it for this purpose.

‘At some points in testing, it resulted in funding being overpaid, which would have meant us having to reclaim funding for children, placing a financial strain on providers.

‘However, we have developed a work-around to address this, and by providing step-by-step instructions to providers on how to input data into the Synergy system, we’ve been able to avoid these kinds of problems occurring.

‘This approach has worked well and we’re not aware of any provider in East Sussex experiencing difficulties. We understand Servelec are looking at this issue for future upgrades.

‘Using Synergy has helped us to switch in the past few years from a paper-based claiming process to a fully automated system. It is a generic tool so it’s not unusual for local authorities to make tweaks to meet their own specific local needs.’

North Yorkshire County Council

‘North Yorkshire County Council provides extensive guidance on the use of the MIS system to any provider who wishes to offer the stretched entitlement.’

Essex County Council

‘Capita One, currently used in Essex, has the functionality available to manage stretched hours funding.’

Warwickshire County Council

‘We have used Synergy in Warwickshire for a number of years for our early education funding admin.

‘Until recently, Synergy did not have a solution for registering stretched hours, so our settings have always had to convert their offer back to 38 weeks. We used to do this prior to the introduction of 30 hours, so it’s not a new issue.

‘Synergy introduced an option to deal with stretch as part of an upgrade we received last summer. We had already decided our processes to deal with stretch for the 2017/18 academic year by the time this was available to us, so continued to ask settings to convert stretched attendance back to 38 weeks.

‘We had to alter some paperwork to comply with the DfE’s new Model Agreement, so we also gave settings some further detailed guidance on how to convert stretch back to 38 weeks.

‘We have had a handful of queries from providers, but nothing really significant.

‘We have decided not to add the new Synergy stretch facility as an option for our settings at present but continue to review and update our guidance. We have a very diverse range of early years providers in Warwickshire, offering a very wide range of funding models, and we need to ensure we have processes that are suitable for all. We feel we can deal appropriately with this diversity at the moment.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We know the cost of childcare can be a burden on families, which is why we are spending more than any other government on support – around £6 billion a year by 2020 – to help make sure that every child gets the best start in life.

'This model does not prevent providers from offering stretched provision, nor does it mean that those providers would receive less funding overall.

'We have strengthened our guidance on this and continue to work closely with local authorities to ensure they understand what methods are available and that they are recording stretched hours correctly.'

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