Free nursery places for all three-year olds. A tag line attracting more and more attention, now parents can get up to 30 hours a week for free. These free hours came into force earlier this month and have proven to be very popular. Providing you earn the equivalent of sixteen hours at minimum wage and your household’s annual income doesn’t exceed £200,000 your child could be eligible for 30 hours free nursery. These hours can be used as a term time only option or stretched to provide continuous provision throughout the year.
But beware the pitfalls! You will be issued with a code and this code will expire and require renewing. Failure to do this will mean your child will no longer be eligible. Parents who do not keep an eye on their expiry dates could find themselves owing their nurseries substantial amounts of money where their child has attended but not been eligible.
But what about the nurseries? The impact has been daunting. The Government pay the nursery for your child’s place. However, in Sussex this hourly rate falls about £1.50 an hour below the true cost of the child’s place. Without the wrap around fees previously obtained under fifteen free hours most nurseries are making a loss. The result being, nurseries will begin to close and the diversity of provision will gradually reduce. Parents will find there are fewer nursery places and fewer opportunities to use their thirty hours.
Authorities, have suggested nurseries charge for extras like snack and drink, trips and enhanced services like Forest School. Realistically, where nurseries are placed in areas of significant deprivation this is not an option. Parents, cannot and will not want to pay for these extras, that have until recently been a free expectation of their nursery provision.
At Carousel, we have always had pride in our OFSTED outstanding grading, one that we have managed to hold consistently. Undoubtedly, it is the quality of the staff that have contributed to this success. Our practitioners are dedicated, well qualified and committed to their careers. But it is fair to say that recruiting this calibre of staff is investment intensive and has further impacted on the sustainability of nursery care since the introduction of thirty hours.
So, whilst the ideology behind thirty hours of free nursery is exactly what working parents need, it will remain to be seen if the poor levels of funding will enable nurseries to continue providing excellent quality at a financial loss.