Early education’s worth

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We're balancing the books at the end of term, says Sue Cowley.

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Sue Cowley

As the summer term comes to a close, we are busy doing appraisals, organising staffing for the next academic year, and examining our accounts.

The question of sustainability is never far from our minds, because early years settings are always balanced on a precarious financial cliff edge.

And one of the questions that arises at this time of year is, ‘How can we pay our staff the wages they really deserve?’ This question is especially telling at the moment because, yet again, our hourly funding rate is not going to increase. This summer we must auto enrol staff into a pension scheme, even though this means another added cost for our setting. There is only one pot of money available, and the pot has not increased, while all our costs have.

No-one comes into childcare for the money. Practitioners enter the field because they love working with children – this is a job for the dedicated and the caring, not for those with pound signs in their eyes. While the Government demands high quality, practitioners are paying the price for the supposedly free childcare that parents receive. No matter how hard we try to pay our staff a decent wage, it is just not possible on the funding we are given. It is only through fundraising we stay open at all.

There will come a point (if it has not arrived already) where settings struggle to recruit practitioners; not because people no longer want to work with children, but because they can earn a better hourly rate in pretty much any other line of work.

It is telling that the introduction of the living wage has hit so many settings hard – it shows just how little practitioners were being paid if we have to increase our hourly rate to meet the new minimum entitlement. Happily for our setting, our accounts will show a small surplus this year. We will be able to eke out a pay rise for our wonderful staff, out of an ever-dwindling pot of money. But I fear that the day will come when there will be no-one left who is willing to work in our early years settings, because we simply cannot pay staff enough to survive. The Government must fund settings to pay practitioners what they deserve – before it is too late.

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