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LETTER OF THE WEEK - Do your EYSFF sums

Maintained nursery schools (Analysis, 19 November) and, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, private settings in the south-east of England are waking up to the likely impact of the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF). However, I am not sure if the penny has dropped yet with other private providers. If not, it's time for them to wake up and do their sums, as the future does not look promising.

In Essex, we are allowed to charge a top-up fee for funded places (which my parents are happy to pay) as long as we offer one place with no additional charges. This system has helped keep my nursery sustainable and pays me a reasonable salary, but it is to be withdrawn in 2010. Thus, as the owner of a small nursery operating extended hours two days per week and four-hour sessions three days per week, I have calculated that I could lose up to £30,000 next year.

The Prime Minister is misleading the public by talking about 'free' childcare. Unless the Government is prepared to fund nurseries' true running costs (for me, an additional £2.89 per hour per child), then the entitlement is never going to be 'free'.

Mr Brown should own up and tell the public the truth: childcare is not 'free', because private providers have to pay the difference at a considerable loss to their business.

If top-up fees are prohibited next year, I shall have no choice but to opt out of the system altogether, so reducing parents' choice for high-quality funded places, and making nursery education two-tiered and elitist.

We need to take action. Why should I subsidise other people's children on the Government's behalf while putting my own children at risk of poverty and by running up debts of £30,000 through no fault of my own?

The EYSFF will take away my right to earn a decent and honest living running a sustainable business, while MPs line their own pockets with taxpayers' money. The Government wants to have its cake and eat it, but if the EYSFF remains unchanged, it will get nothing from me.

Debbie Palmer, The Village Montessori Nursery, Theydon Bois, Essex

- Letter of the Week wins £30 worth of books

THREAT TO SURVIVAL

Karen Faux is correct to write that the Early Years Single Funding Formula seems to be creating more problems than it will solve (Analysis, 19 November), but for many Montessori schools it is more than just a problem. Instead, it is a matter of economic survival.

Montessori schools generally have well-qualified staff whose salary rate reflects their qualifications. In a survey of members of the Montessori Schools Association, the gap between the threeand four-year-old funding for part-time provision proposed by local authorities and the costs of staffing alone (without other costs of rent, heating, etc) is commonly around £2 an hour, and sometimes even more.

Unlike maintained nursery schools and classes, there is no possibility of other support from the local authority. Instead, Montessori schools face a bleak prospect from April next year. As small businesses, they cannot support losses of several thousands of pounds a year, and so closure or opting out of the funding scheme are their only options.

Opting out of the scheme brings other problems, such as the loss of local authority support, let alone whether or not parents can afford to pay the actual costs of the provision.

There are over 31,000 children in Montessori schools and the annual turnover for this part of the sector is estimated to be £60m a year.

The Early Years Single Funding Formula does not represent 'the light at the end of the tunnel'. Instead, it seems likely to be the buffers that block the continued existence of high-quality provision.

Dr Martin Bradley, chair, Montessori Schools Association

EDITOR'S NOTE: Children's minister Dawn Primarolo has now confirmed that the Early Years Single Funding Formula will be delayed for a year until April 2011 (see News, p4). Is this a necessary hold-up to ensure the system is implemented smoothly, or a damaging delay? Let us know what you think.

- Send your letters to ... The Editor, Nursery World, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP, letter.nw@haymarket.com, 020 8267 8401.

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