Personal Feedback from Midlands Childcare Expo 2016   Leave a comment

This year I was asked again to attend the Childcare Expo VIP Breakfast Summit – I was particularly pleased to have been asked because I had some concerns that now I have retired as a registered childminder, that I would not be considered to be one of the leading voices in the early years sector.

Even more pleasing was the fact that I was asked to do an interview about me which was used (along with other interviews) to promote the event.

I wrote a blog about my pre event thoughts and included a link to my interview. If you have not read it you can do so by clicking on the link below

Now that I have attended both the VIP Breakfast summit and Midlands Expo for 2016, I want to share my personal feedback and thoughts.

Attending a breakfast summit does mean getting up early and having a discussion with oneself about if should have breakfast at home because of the early start and the long day ahead OR to skip breakfast at home because past experience has shown that a very good breakfast will be provided later. In the end I opted for a coffee at home before setting off in the direction of the MBK training office, where I was to meet my colleague Tricia Wellings. Tricia was also attending the Breakfast summit and for the first time was exhibiting at Expo.

I was very grateful to Tricia for offering me a lift from her office, because although I had to drive to the office it cut my travel expenses in half. Since retiring from childminding, I no longer have a tax deductible method of keeping my volunteering and campaigning costs down, nor do I have an independent income and have to fund my campaigning and volunteer activities from our family budget and the very small income I get from writing articles. So grateful thanks to Tricia.

We arrived at Expo in good time, and were able to network and enjoy breakfast before the summit opened. I chatted to people I knew and introduced myself to people that I did not know.

James Hempsall was facilitating the meeting (as he did last year) and he started off by telling us a little about himself and his company and his role for today.

The main discussion was to be what early years would look like in the future. James had his own views that he shared with us – I was quite pleased that most of the points he raised, I had raised in my pre summit blog about Early Years education – or is it childcare. However my thoughts / conclusion were not all the same as those James expressed.

If you have not read my thoughts in that blog yet you can do so by clicking on the link

James then asked those in the room to come up with things that concerned them or that they wanted to discuss. It will most likely not surprise readers to know that the Funding Rate; and Ofsted were the two top things that people wanted to discuss. My suggestion was slightly different as I wanted to ensure the individual child was put at the heart of everything – something I feel is still not happening.

As a result of the discussion several interesting points were raised and discussed and it is one of those points that I want to focus on, because I fear that the needs of the individual child are going to get pushed aside because of lack of sufficient Government funding and indeed understanding of the issues involved.

In the room we had some who have been taking part in the pilots and so had valuable information to share about how the pilots  were going and the ideas they were trying to make the funding stretch and for their settings to be sustainable.

One idea was to be completely honest with parents and explain how much funding they got from the Government – and more importantly what it covered and what it didn’t.

We were told that parents had warmly welcomed this information and had been shocked at how little the funding was – and that it did not cover things like meals.

With the 15 hours some settings had been able to avoid providing meals because their funded sessions were for 3 hours a day and so parents paid for meals as an extra as part of the hours they paid for. Other settings absorbed the cost of meals with the 15 hours – but in reality this meant they charged a little bit more to parents that paid for childcare – including those too young for funded hours. And this sort of worked with the 15 hours because there were enough hours available within a nursery week that were paid for by parents, that the books balanced. However with 30 hours all of this would change because some children would be able to access 30 hours and so there would be far fewer hours in a nursery week that could be charged for – leaving the issue of becoming unsustainable.

Within the pilot areas parents who were benefitting from the funded 30 hours  were very happy to pay for an ‘extra’s’ package – mainly because they were saving a lot of money on their nursery bill. Most parents taking part in the pilots were already using the nursery for 30 or more hours a week, and so this was a genuine saving for them. As it would be for parents in the future once the 30 hours is rolled out – if they needed to use nursery (or pre school, or childminder) for 30 hours or more there would be a saving in fees for them – and so even if paying for an extra’s package, they would be better off.

However, this would not be the case for all parents – and I fear the children may then have a lesser service with out the extra’s package or that parents may find that the so called ‘FREE’ childcare offer from the Government was not free and maybe nursery  was not affordable for them.

Let’s give a couple of examples (based on children and families I know)

Child A – Currently 2 yrs old and goes to nursery two days a week and grandparents two days a week. Parents don’t like relying on grandparents but they just cannot afford to send their child to nursery 4 days. They are looking forward to when their child is three and they will be able to access the 30 funded hours. The plan is the child will then go to nursery for 4 days because the funded hours will mean their nursery bill will not go up.

However, if there is an ‘extras’ they may find that they have to pay for meals not just on the two extra days but on all 4 days because the nursery changes how it charges for things and has to be seen as being fair to all parent. So child A’s parents may find their nursery bill goes up and they do not benefit as much as they thought they would – and indeed they may find that they actually cannot afford to send their child for 4 days to nursery – despite the Government promise of 30 hours free childcare.

Child B – Currently 2 yrs old and has benefitted from 2 yr old funding. Father has been using the 15 hours to attend college and really hopes to be able to become employed once his child is 3 yrs old and can access the 30 hours, because he will not have a childcare bill to pay. However despite finding a job that meets the funding criteria, Dad can not take the job because he cannot afford the ‘extras’ package on his min wage once he has paid for travel to work.

Child C – is 4 in October and due to go to school next September. Parents are delighted that their child can access 30 hours of childcare as this is nearly the same number of hours as their friends child who was 4 in June gets at school. However they are very cross that while their friend’s child get free meals at school, free fruit at snack time – they have to pay an ‘extras’ package at their child’s nursery. They do not understand why this is and do not think it fair – after all both children are 4.

Personally I do not like the options that those who can not afford an extras package should be told they need to send a packed lunch, or that their child will have a meal but not the same quality as those who can afford to pay for the extras package. Nor do I think it fair that other parents have to pay more than they need to, just to subsidise the lack of Government funding.

Meanwhile some families who earn up to £100,000 each (so up to £200,000 per family) can access the funding when they could easily pay for their child’s nursery place.

It seems to me that the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ will just get bigger – and that those that most need support and most need a balance meal mid day will not get it.

In my opinion the Government need to look at the issue of meals for pre school children. It is generally accepted that children of in first years of primary  school should all have a free school meal, it is even accepted that in school holidays some children go hungry unless a meal is provided by other means. And yet pre school children have to rely on the good will of the nursery or pre school or childminder – or on other parents paying more. This can not be right – especially when the poorest families also have to rely on food banks to stretch their family budget and to provide food for their children.

If Government want to improve outcomes for children they need to look at children’s well being – and a healthy diet is a big part of this. Maybe they should re think offering funded hours to all children and focus on those that need it most . This could mean still providing 15 hours to all children (and from say 12 months of age when many parents return to work or study) so that all children benefit from a nurturing, language rich environment; and limit the 30 hours to those who earn less than £60,000 as a family.

As you can see the issue of insufficient funding is bigger than many of us thought and if early years settings are forced to make difficult decisions to remain sustainable, then it will be the children who have to go without as a two tier system seems a real possibility.

I am not blaming early years settings at all , they are just trying to make ends meet because if they don’t, they will close and eventually there will not be many settings left.

Actually James said that in the long term early years may look very different – with an increase in school based settings, and large nursery chains – which of course would mean that small pre schools, stand alone nurseries and childminders will find it harder and harder to remain sustainable – and that would mean less choice for parents and children not being able to access the type of setting that meets their needs. I really hope that James is wrong about this, because we need choice and we need individual needs to be met.

Which brings me to another point – if we lose local community based childminders, pre schools and stand alone nurseries – will we see under fives being picked up by buses and transported into towns and cities so they can attend those bigger schools and nurseries? Will we move even closer to a ‘one size’ fits all early years system. I really hope not.

Reading back through this blog – it has come across quite negatively so I want to end with some positive comments.

First – unlike last year those at the Breakfast Summit were less angry than last year, they could see improvements in Ofsted and thought that although there is still room for improvement, Ofsted were listening. There was less anger at the Government – there was still despair but there was also an attitude of ‘let’s try to find solutions’ – which is where the ‘Will charging for extras idea work’ came from. Maybe that is not the solution but I know these creative, passionate people will come up with other ideas.

Finally looking around Expo I could see that companies were trying to offer individual services, that there was a lot of information and advise – and a feeling of we are in this together. There were many natural based resources and ideas rather than tons of plastic (not that plastic is bad  – it is good for some things)- and certainly the seminars focussed on what could be done to support the children and families – as well as each other.

And there is the hope – the hope that settings will develop their own ethos and parents will continue to have a wide range of options; that settings will work in real partnership with each valuing the others and not assuming that one type of setting is better than the other; that settings will share resources, and training and ideas, so that available money is used to benefit all; that Ofsted will be able to judge settings on children’s holistic well being and not on data of ‘good progress’; that eventually we will be able to  say hand on heart ‘Every Child Does Matter and Every Child is Flourishing’.

People are beginning to come together more, people are beginning to speak out more, people are writing articles and blogs more ………

………. BUT  we need to do more to ensure the Government listens because if we don’t – all our efforts to date, all the ideas we have, all the passion we have , all our dreams of creating a system that works for us all (settings / parents / children) will be trampled on by the current Government and future Government.

I hope that I get invited to next years Breakfast Summit , and I hope that we will have made progress in achieving our shared aims.




Posted October 3, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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