An open letter to Government about the 30 hours   Leave a comment

Dear Government (and everyone else caught up in the funding debate for the 30 hours)

I thought I would write this open letter with my personal thoughts ahead of the results of the funding consultation about the 30 hours, and indeed the one about Maintained Nursery Schools.

I have been proven right in my own personal thinking on a number of things within the early year’s sector in recent years, and indeed I have seen a number of U turns and abandonment of ideas around the issues I have campaigned about.

So will my personal thoughts be proved right this time?

My point is not to say ‘Told you so’ but rather to say – ‘Why not carry out proper consultation without hidden agenda and closed questions?’ Why not allow time for engagement with the sector?’ ‘Why not think outside the box and be brave enough to make long term changes, not just short term policy changes that achieve nothing in the long term and in fact often have a negative impact on children and families?’

Having said that, I am pleased to note that the current Government led by Theresa May, appear to be consulting little bit more and therefore hopefully listening a bit more before policy is implemented. Time will tell.

Before I start recording my thoughts, I need to make it clear that I do not have my own setting, and that I support ALL early years’ settings because I am an advocate for children, families and early years settings. We need high quality settings but also choice for families, and children, as one type of setting will not meet the needs of all children and families.

One of my personal concerns is that we will end up with one type of setting – and most likely a school based one that will not meet the needs of all children or families. I am also concerned that the way the Government is treating different parts of the early year’s sector differently that divide will be created as early years settings will not stand as one to ensure every child flourishes but will be drawn into heated self-centred debates based on their own survival. This is not needed and will not benefit any one – and especially not the children

So the first issue I want to look at, is that of Maintained Nursery Schools (MNS) and the increased amount of funding that they have traditionally had.

First though, I must say I do think it is right that Government has agreed to protect the funding rate for MNS while full consideration is given to why MNS need an enhanced rate. It would be dreadful if funding rates were reduced and they all closed, and would be a huge loss to the early year’s sector.

However, why is the Government not responding to the needs of the rest of the early year’s sector and giving them the same opportunities to remain open and not be threaten with closure due to being unsustainable?

It does not seem fair – and as there are more children accessing funded hours through the PVI sector, this unfairness could impact on many families and limit choice for families, and places for children.

I realise that it would cost the Government more money to offer an increased rate to the PVI sector, but if this was time limited (like the offer to MNS) surely it would be worth it to ensure PVI settings do not close, while the whole funding situation is looked at.

Most PVI settings would be happy with a baseline rate paid of £5 per hour, per child plus the normal adjustments as needed and as per Government guidelines.

I know the Government want to explore why MNS have such good outcomes – but really it is not rocket science – and historic issues though important to consider, are not the only factors to take into account.

Things have changed so much over the past years, with investment by Government, higher qualifications, and quality across the early year’s sector. Therefore a complete overhaul is needed to have a system that works for everyone – parents, Government and settings.

A quick fix, or providing some with protection against cuts or increased cost (but not all settings) is not the answer.

A forward thinking Government should want to consider short and long term sustainability of all settings, ensuring high quality, and gaining best possible value for money.

Certainly expecting settings or parents to cover shortfall in Government funding for election promises is not good enough.

First, let’s look at the need for MNS to have their own Head Teacher. In principle this is wonderful because it means the person in charge has a full understanding of the needs of early year’s children, and can implement policy and practice that will ensure the best outcomes. However in my opinion the cost of this seems too high – and completely unfair to the settings and children who do not have such a qualified lead person nor the budget to implement ideas or employ the higher qualified staff required in MNS.

This aspect needs looking at and alternatives considered if better use could be made of these experienced and qualified heads

Maybe Heads of MNS could also act as Head for local school nursery classes – thus sharing the cost of that head – meaning the MNs would need less funding per child.

I know Heads of MNS do already have a role in leadership across settings, but I don’t think the cost of the Head is shared between the settings.

Maybe the Heads of MNS should be paid from other budgets and the actual MNS run on a daily basis by another lead member of staff?

If the cost of employing such a person was not directly linked to a MNS, then the funding per child would be fairer and easier to justify. Cost to the Government would be similar but how the skills of those currently employed as Heads of MNS were used to benefit more settings and therefore children would be completely different

But there is much more to be considered …….

Take colleagues in school reception classes, or in nursery classes within schools – they often have a Head Teacher with responsibility for the whole school, and who does not have any early years qualifications or experience. The staff often feel they are banging their heads on the wall as they try to get Heads to understand or release money from the budget for specific items.

Also these days some PVI settings are run by people with similar early years qualifications and experience to MNS Heads but are not paid anything like the same pay – in fact some leaders in the PVI receive no pay or very little because the setting cannot afford it. How is this fair – not just to the setting but to the children and families?

Now let’s look at staff qualifications – many PVI settings and individual childminders do now have a degree, some now have a Masters or are an EYT – but their pay does not reflect this. Many settings have more level 3 staff than is required under regulations but this is not reflected in their pay or rate of funding (some argue that MNS need more funding to pay for higher qualified staff). Please note it is not the fault of the PVI settings, as they simply cannot afford to pay more on the funding they receive – and that is the case now, when they are able to recoup some money through non funded hours, but with the roll out of the 30 hours this will not be possible.

To be fair to all – consideration for funding rates should include level of qualifications and equal pay for those with the same level of qualifications – and by equal pay I mean per hour worked – so for example if someone has a level 3 they should get say £12 per hour worked, if they have a degree they should get say £14 per hour, and of course they should also get an enhanced rate if they lead the setting – just as the Head of a MNS currently gets.

I am not naïve, and I realise the Government could not afford to cover these sorts of costs – I am just trying to raise the issues that need to be considered and to put forward the idea that a complete rethink is needed.

Oh and by the way what about the childminders? Childminders tend to lead their settings and have responsibility for doing everything – many have a level 3 qualification or higher (or have years of experience and knowledge without a formal qualification) and yet the Government can (and will) restrict their earnings whatever their qualification or Ofsted grade is. Each childminder can have 3 children under 5 – and although they can also have school age children before and after school, some are not able to due to space in the car, or routines of the younger children. This means with funded hours a childminder has a restricted income for some or all of the day. Even at £4 per hour, per child (and many will get less) after genuine expenses many childminders will earn less than the minimum wage, and have no sick pay or pension.

Let’s now consider the hours different settings are open for. MNS and some community based pre – schools operate within school hours and school terms – so the children will usually have a 3 hour session each day (meaning 15 hours a week), and they get school holidays of around 13 weeks a year. School based early years settings may provide up to 6 hours per day, but again only in term time. Ofsted just judge the setting on those opening hours. Children and staff get plenty of time to do other things, to rest and relax and go on family holidays. However most childminders and day nurseries are open for 9 or more hours a day (with some childminders opening for 12 or more hours a day) and 50 – 52 weeks of the year. Ofsted judge those settings on all the hours they are open. Staff and children are tired at the end of each day and week, holidays are less frequent and for some children maybe only a few days a year. In my opinion it is not fair that some settings are judge on 10 hour days and some on 3 hour sessions against the EYFS (all early years settings are judged against this). Would it not be fairer if all settings were required to implement 3 hours a day, term time only of EYFS based ‘curriculum’ and judged against this – and maybe a different judgement for any other hours provided. I am saying this because of the requirement to record and document the ‘learning’ for however many hours the setting is open – which means more work for staff and more pressure to ensure every hour is utilised to tick progress boxes.

Of course we all know that children are constantly gaining new knowledge and understanding – but it seems unfair to me that the requirements from Ofsted need meeting for such different periods of time. I am not sure my personal thoughts are valid, but I certainly feel this needs looking at. As an ex childminder I would have been much more relaxed if my EYFS recording did not have to be over so many hours and with an Ofsted expectation that I would have planned various activities throughout the day. By relaxing Ofsted expectations for inspections – many settings would then be able to implement other opportunities for more child led play without any targets. I would suggest that this would actually improve outcomes for children. Certainly research says that it is the first 3 hours of high quality education that makes the difference and that any additional hours do not significantly improve outcomes. Then there is the research that says holidays or days away from school or setting do not have a negative impact on outcomes, and the research that suggests children need to be ‘bored’ and not rushed from one activity to the next, as well as the research that children these days have high levels of mental health issues, and are unable to think for themselves, self-regulate or even motivate themselves.

I would suggest all these issues need considering when looking at early years care and education (the two cannot be separated but for inspection and funding purposes a difference could be made around focussed educational activities / experiences).

Please note I am not suggesting there should be a difference in funding rates for ‘education’ funding and non-education funding – just in Ofsted requirements. If every setting had to provide 3 hours per child, per day attending of Ofsted required EYFS recording then it would all be a lot fairer and flexible.

I think the Government do recognise something needs to change because they have been referring to 15 hours of education and an additional 15 hours of childcare (and the additional 15 hours only for working parents)

Of course there other issues that need considering;

Parents of under two’s, who get very little  support

Working parents of two year olds

Parents who work shifts (including weekends) or who have zero hour’s contracts

Parents who work long hours and have long commutes

As I have said, there is so much to consider, that the whole funding issue needs to go back to the drawing board – and while the Government are doing this they need to ensure settings – all types of settings – do not close by providing short term financial support.

So to finish, I am not suggesting I have the answers (although I do think a subsidy for every child would be fairer, rather than an offer of ‘free childcare’ that the Government cannot afford and settings cannot subsidise), what I am saying is the early years sector is at a crisis point and if we are not careful good and outstanding settings will close, parents will end up with less choice and limited options for hours that meet their needs, and settings that are not local but need transport to access.

In recent years the early years sector has risen to all the targets and changes despite the huge challenges this has created, but I seriously think the whole 30 hour election promise is a step too far and that ‘enough is enough’

Government have demonstrated a huge commitment to the early years – but the Government need to listen, to everyone involved, and they need to ‘get it right’ because once settings close, once highly qualified and experience staff leave the sector, it will be impossible to reverse these things. It will be too late.

So please Government, and everyone involved – lets discuss this and all pull together to ensure every child has access to a high quality setting that is right for them so they flourish, and that also meets their parents needs – so they can work if they want to, or study, or fulfil other commitments such as caring for elderly relatives or doing community work.


Penny Webb BEM

Advocate for children, families and early years settings.


Posted October 30, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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