30 hours funding – where are we now? By Sarah Neville

7th April 2017

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At a recent Ofsted Big Conversation meeting, early years providers were talking about the different financial challenges we face at the moment. Let’s just think about some of them for a moment – the National Living Wage (from April 2016, all over 25s are entitled to £7.20 an hour, increasing to £9 an hour by 2020); compulsory workplace pensions by 2018; changes to statutory sick pay (employers are no longer able to recover costs); the underfunded 15 hours childcare offer which is soon to be 30 hours; increases in business rates affecting group providers across the country; the low rate of Early Years Pupil Premium compared with school funding for disadvantaged children; the high cost of staff training and the requirement for all nursery staff to be first aid trained; the implications of the apprenticeship levy… and the list goes on.

At the same time as all this financial insecurity we are to protect children from obesity and ensure they all have 3 hours physical exercise a day; constantly and consistently raise standards by delivering the highest quality teaching and learning so we can demonstrate children are making progress; keep children safe online and provide parents with guidance to online safety; prioritise early maths and literacy; actively promote British values; complete documentation to show the impact of Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP); deliver phonics sessions (our inspector looked for evidence of how we use Letters and Sounds); consider how the revised EYFS (2017) and new DfE guidance impacts on our policies and get to grips with new and updated legislation; increase expenditure on staff training because nothing is free anymore; prepare children for school; close the gap for disadvantaged children and even, as we were asked recently by our Local Authority, remind parents about flu jabs!

In the main, providers are rising to the challenges – more and more early years provisions are graded good or outstanding by Ofsted than ever before… yet at the same time I read on the Champagne Nurseries Lemonade Funding Facebook group that nurseries across the country are closing their doors and Ofsted figures tell us the number of childminders continues to decline every year. We also have the added concern, as noted by a lot of providers in discussions across Facebook, that they will have no alternative but to sacrifice quality and make cut-backs if this situation continues.

Ofsted’s aim to ensure all early years providers offer children the highest quality educational experience so that they are prepared for starting school is a good one: few complain about that (apart from the way it is worded perhaps – but that’s another subject entirely)! The worry of many providers is that there will not be enough staff or provisions available for parents to access early years education and it is, as ever when Government sets policies without listening to the people these policies affect, the children who are going to suffer.

When I talked about the 30 hours in my previous blog, I noted that we had just received the funding rate from the Government and I wondered, ‘is it enough?’ Now we have Local Authority funding rates published and many providers are saying ‘no, absolutely not’. I have joined the Pre-school Learning Alliance Fair Future Funding campaign and I am reading all the arguments and listening to all the ideas for ensuring my continued sustainability. I am, like many, fearful about the future but I do not have a Plan B so this is my life until I retire and I can only make the very best of it… I love my job and the children and I have to believe that will see me through!

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