Guest post: Nursery funding - 'don't make us do this vital job on even more of a shoestring'
New research has shown that parents are paying more for childcare to subsidise free nursery places - here, early years manager Helen Horner describes how nurseries are operating on a tiny budget, and says the government must provide more funding
Early Years teacher and manager
Posted on: Fri 16-Jan-15 10:49:09
(20 comments )
Everyone who works in the nursery sector will tell you that money and resources are tight, and can't be stretched any further – yet at the same time, fees for parents are higher than ever.
There are various reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to the fact that nurseries don't get enough money to cover the government-funded places they provide.
At our nursery, we have space for 48 children per day. Half of these places are funded, which is the free 15 hours per child that you get from the government as a parent.
Our nursery receives £3.38 per hour per child for a funded place, whereas our standard rate for a paid place is about £4.50. Most families use a mix of funded and unfunded hours as children are with us on average 25 hours a week.
So, we have a shortfall. And because funded places are term time only, we are also left with gaps we could fill in the holidays, which means more loss of income.
This situation is costing our nursery about £45,000 a year in revenue that we would have received if all places were funded at £4.50 per hour. Now we're facing the possibility of free hours being extended by a new government, without any promise of more funding.
The current situation is costing our nursery about £45,000 a year in revenue, and now we're facing the possibility of free hours being extended by a new government without any promise of more funding.
Of course, we'd love to take on more children. Every child should have the right to good early years care, and something must be done to tackle the crippling cost of childcare for parents – but the only way for more hours to be viable in nurseries is if they are funded at a level that matches our costs.
A year and a half ago we had 25 staff members, mostly part-time. Now we're down to 16. We still meet our requirements in terms of children to staff ratios, but we no longer have the ‘luxury’ of an extra person if needed - if someone calls in sick at 7am, I have to race around finding cover before we open to make sure we have enough staff for the day.
We work really hard to make sure the children here aren't affected by our money worries, but things like parents’ evenings are suffering - I can't pay staff to attend, so parents and carers don't get to chat to the people who look after their children every day. Similarly, it's really important for staff to go on courses and learn new things, and they end up having to do it on their days off because I can't spare them.
In terms of equipment, we'll spend money where we have to. We have to be very creative, and work with what we can afford. Even buying a load of glitter and colourful craft stuff to make Christmas cards and decorations is a financial strain. Unlike schools, we don't qualify for a VAT exemption, and unlike schools, we can't offer free lunches and fruit snacks because we don't get that funding either.
It's incredibly important to retain good staff; the children need consistency and people who are passionate about their development, but we have staff who've been loyal to use since we opened 17 years ago who we can't reward financially for their hard work.
It's essential that the government gets this right - they need to back up election-friendly promises about free care with real money, otherwise the standard of care will decline. Early years education is so important – we’re tuning children in to learning, helping them enjoy play, and setting the foundations for everything that comes after they leave us. Please don't make us do this vital job on even more of a shoestring.
You can read the National Day Nurseries Association's report here.
By Helen Horner
I completely agree. My DD goes to an exceptionally well staffed nursery, but that comes at a cost. You can really see the quality of care and education as a result. We are lucky to be able to afford this and effectively subsidise those who only use their free hours.
What can parents do to support nurseries in campaigning for adequate funding?
Hello - you can get involved with the National Day Nurseries Association's Childcare Challenge www.ndna.org.uk/childcarechallenge - in the run-up to the general election we're calling on the next government to support nurseries and other providers to offer the best quality care and education and the best choice for parents for the best possible cost
Absolutely agree, its so sad that this is the reality. The thing is, with the drive to make childcare cost less for parents I worry this is going to get worse, with the quality of care being the thing that is sacrificed.
It wasn't so long ago they were threatening to loosen ratios, it does worry me that such a policy might rise again if money is seen as more important than quality and safety.
Qualifications are being increased, not only are the particular early years qualifications getting harder to pass but the GCSE requirements are in place too so there are fewer people able to enter the profession which will push wages up.
It's not fair on the parents who pay that they are effectively subsidising the funded hours for their own child and often other children too but without faire payment for funded hours there is no choice.
I too thought that we were making a loss with our funded 3 and 4 year olds as the amount we received was much lower than the rate we charge. However when I calculated the break even point I discovered that this was lower than I anticipated - which was a big surprise but a good one :D The rate we receive for 2 year olds is significantly higher than the 3 and 4 year olds as it reflects the lower staff ratios, does this happen across the country? Our owner is very child centred particularly with regard to disadvantaged children; we find this very refreshing and she can often be found in the rooms with the children who adore her - the business side is left to me and this has worked well thus far. Budgets are tight at times and can make recruitment difficult and there are many practitioners who still think of themselves as Nursery Nurses and I think the general public's perception of the role is way off the mark; I have been guilty of thinking that it was an easy job that anyone with patience could do; how wrong was I! I'm an accountant originally employed to complete accounts, process wages and apply for funding where possible - I found myself drawn in to the child care, learning and development as I was fascinated by the characters coming through the doors. I completed a diploma in children's learning and development and am now able to manage a setting if I so choose. The owner of the setting doesn't hold a full and relevant qualification, although she does hold NVQ assessor quals but she is not able to manage the setting despite 38 years in childcare - this doesn't make sense to me; she has so much knowledge and is able to engage all children, that can be learned but not in an NVQ or diploma - it takes practice and mentoring. I don't think parents/carers/general public appreciate the effort and care it takes to effectively deliver the EYFS, maybe if they did they would be willing to pay a little more. Also the single formula that was used to calculate the 3 and 4 year old rate used costs from a number of years ago and these have rocketed in recent years - I did ask our CYPS if it could be updated to provide current costs to no avail. The government also needs to appreciate the rise in costs and adjust each council budget accordingly instead of cutting it further. Rant nearly over! I think the move to expect EYE to hold GCSE grade C or above in English and maths is a must; practitioners need to be confident in these areas to pass the skills and enthusiasm onto the children.
I've been on both sides. Used to work in a nursery, where pay was quite low and funds for the nursery was low. Now I'm a parent, going back to work in March because I have too and child care cost will take about 90% of my wages!
I think nursery should be run like schools (like in Scotland), you don't pay for child care. It's funded 100% by Government.
Saree, I think you've been misinformed. In Scotland we pay childcare the same as you do in england. Nursery fees are crippling here too.
Agree completely op. I think the Montessori my dc attend is fabulous,has dedicated staff all of whom have remained in post the 5 years we have used it. I don't want anything undermining what's in place for british nurseries
Spurtle, thanks for letting me know. I take that moment back!
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
The flip side of this is that many nurseries refuse to absorb the shortfall at all. In the thames valley it is commonplace for families to be asked to pay considerable "top up" fees in order to access their "free" 15 hour spaces. One setting wanted to charge us an extra £25 a week.
That's not really the flip side, it's another option given the underfunding.
The funding should be enough but as it isn't should the settings use the inadequate funding to offer a substantial discount to parents (but need them to pay the top-up), charge the extra from other parents or just refuse to be part of the scheme so no-one gets the discount. What is fairer?
Nurseries can't get a discount on their rent or bills because they are under funded and staff are already on minimum wage or close to it - they are between a rock and a hard place.
"In the thames valley it is commonplace for families to be asked to pay considerable "top up" fees in order to access their "free" 15 hour spaces. One setting wanted to charge us an extra £25 a week."
This used to be permitted, but the last change of rules banned top up fees. The trouble is that parents rarely complain when settings break the rules, possibly because they don't want to rock the boat, or find their nursery goes bust.
I am about to take part in a pilot scheme aimed at attracting
old, experienced, qualified (but not in childcare) people into early years. It is enabling me to jump to a level 3 NVQ, with help with funding. There are a few pilot schemes like this to keep up with the increasing demand for places.
I am going into it because of the reasons Mrs DeVere talks about. My ds is disabled, and many of the nurseries and preschools we looked at were woefully unqualified to support children like him. The preschool he went to eventually is amazing, with a high level of children with additional needs or suspected additional needs.
Edith - top ups are commonplace round these parts. It's not permitted, but nobody does anything, so they all get away with it.
We finally managed to get a space at a council run preschool that only offers 15 hours, but it wasn't easy.
The current system isn't working for families or nurseries, but government seems reluctant to do anything, and everyone seems afraid to take action.
Why can't there be state funded nurseries like state funded primary schools - paid for out of taxes (increased taxes if necessary)
Interestingly at my children's pre-school (they take them from 2.5) they said they are making a loss on the fee paying children, they charge £7.50 for 3 hours pre-school until your child is eligible for funding, so £2.50 an hour so get more money for the child once funded. They only offer maximum 15 hours a week though so isn't suitable as childcare just as pre-schooling though some childminders do drop offs and pick ups
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