Progress, or problem?

Sue Cowley
Monday, June 15, 2015

On the face of it, the Government's policy of increasing 'free' childcare to 30 hours a week seems like a jolly good idea.

It certainly appeals to working parents, for whom the cost of childcare can be prohibitive.

But for early years providers, this policy raises questions. Questions about finances are at the forefront of many people's minds, especially given the shortfall between what we are paid to provide funded places, and the cost of providing them. Will the promised review of rates lead to an increase, or will we be asked to struggle on regardless? If the children in our settings are in receipt of more funded hours, and consequently attend for less fee-paying hours, how will we make up any deficit?

For small voluntary-run settings, such as the one that I help to run, this policy raises some worrying questions about sustainability. At present we open for fewer than 30 hours a week, and we have a relatively small number of children on roll. If we extend our opening times in order to offer the full 30 hours, this will increase our staffing costs, with no guarantee that all the hours will all be filled. Is it even realistic to expect volunteers to run a setting that opens for 30 hours a week? I worry that this policy may sound the death knell for the voluntary-run part of the private, voluntary and independent sector.

But perhaps the most interesting question is exactly where all these new places are going to come from. If your children currently use their 15 funded hours each week by attending three hours each day, then doubling the number of funded hours means you must double the number of places available. Perhaps the Government expects us to magic up more spaces, and more staff, from out of thin air?

Yet again, changes are being made that affect childcare providers without anyone asking those at the sharp end how best to go about it. When this happens I am always reminded of Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek, as he maps out a new destination for his ship, turns to his crew and says, 'Make it so.' Well, this time round, I'm not so sure we can.

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