Since the government’s UK budget release in March, the announcement regarding funded hours for children has become a hugely discussed topic in the Early Years sector. The funded hours scheme is being expanded to provide working parents of all children over the age of nine months with 30 hours of funded childcare for 38 weeks of the year.
So when will the changes come into place?
- From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of funded childcare.
- From September 2024, 15 hours of funded childcare will be extended to all children from the age of nine months.
- From September 2025, working parents of all children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of funded childcare per week.
The government have said that “this staggered approach will give childcare providers time to prepare for the changes, ensuring there are enough providers ready to meet demand.”
The hourly rate paid to childcare providers by the government will also be increased to help them to deliver their existing 30 hours entitlement, however, it is still unclear what this hourly rate will be.
In addition to increasing the funded hours for parents, the number of children a member of staff can look after at the same time will be increased from four to five, starting from September 2023. This change will bring ratio requirements in line with those of other comparable countries. The government stated, “This is already the case in Scotland and follows a thorough consultation on the safety of this change.”
A month on, settings and parents alike have had time to reflect on what it means to them. We have collated some opinions to dig deeper into what people really think of the proposal.
Sally Lynham, Nursery Manager at Overbury Grasshoppers said: “It’s a big unknown at the moment as we don’t have the details but if it is funded at the same rates as the 3 year funding we will find many more nurseries closing. This will only compound the issues of staff recruitment as well as all the other increases in costs.
The only way forward is to stop calling it “free” and move to “subsidised” so that we can pay our staff the wages they deserve, not just what we can afford. We have seen reports suggesting that the rate could be as high as £8.00 per hour for 2 year olds but again this will depend on how much the local authority take. It’s a nervous waiting game.”
Cheryl Hadland, Managing Director at Tops Day Nurseries added: “We are pleased that the government now speaks of the importance of childcare to parents and employers. Offering funding to 9 months and above children in September 2024 is a long time to wait though, in the most these children are not even conceived yet. For providers, it will need to be well funded if top-ups are not permitted as the cost on a 1:3 ratio is considerably higher than for 3-4 year olds, for which we are already seriously underfunded.
The additional staff required for the extra places is also not going to happen in the current climate, significant additional funding needs to be put in place to retain existing staff, never mind the additional staff required for larger baby and toddler units. We have grave concerns about the underfunding but are happy that parents will get increased support.”
Cheryl also commented on the ratio changes: “Reducing the ratio of staff to 2 year olds is very unpopular with staff, decreasing the time they can spend with children already impacted by the pandemic. In many rooms changing the ratio is not possible, eg. a room of 16 children will still require 4 staff, or a room of 12 children will still require 3 staff, so only very large rooms of 2 year olds will potentially be impacted. If 5 two year olds are taken on by one member of staff they will be less likely to be able to take any SEND children without seriously impacting on their support to the rest of the children. Without being able to afford to pay a graduate level (qualification or experience) in toddler rooms it’s hard to work out how quality for children can possibly be maintained on a 1:5 ratio instead of 1:4. *Exemplars in Scotland, New Zealand, and Northern Europe all employ graduates in all rooms.”
One parent of a two year old explained: ”As a working mum of a two year old, who currently attends nursery three days a week, I was hoping for some good news and financial support with childcare, especially in the current cost of living crisis. The 30 hours funding I received for my eldest child from the age of three was invaluable but the timeframes the government has set will mean my two year old will be eligible for the 3-4 year old funding before these changes come into place. I understand it will take time to plan and prepare for such changes at the nurseries, however the government’s aim was to help parents return to work, yet any child that is currently 6 months to 2 years old will be entitled to 3-4 year old funding before the full proposed offering is available. Therefore there feels like very little benefit to current parents.
Another parent of a two year old commented: In regards to the 1:5 ratios the government has suggested, I am personally not in favour of this as it means my child will likely receive less of the staff members’ focus. I also feel this would put additional pressure on the nursery staff who already have an incredibly tough job.”