30 hours is drawing ever closer and the dilemmas faced by childcare providers simply won’t go away. A great deal of uncertainty remains, as do the challenges of low funding levels.
With providers currently crunching the numbers to see if they can make funded hours work for them, our new Childminders Fee Survey[i] has shown that many childminders will struggle to offer funded hours without experiencing a detrimental impact on their small business.
We were hopeful when the Department for Education announced that local authorities would receive an average of £4.85 per hour from the free entitlement, because we know that the average childminder hourly rate is £4.64. However, now that most LAs have confirmed their rates, it is clear that far less will actually reach childminders.
In fact our survey has shown that if childminders purely offered funded places for two, three and four year olds, many could soon face closure.
The average local authority base rate in 2017/18 is just £4.28, so a childminder could face an average hourly shortfall of £0.36 per hour, per child.
But taking the maths even further - when you equate this to the 1140 funded hours needed to be offered per year (30 hours per week), a childminder could potentially see an annual shortfall of £410.40 per 3-and 4-year child, or even £1,231.20 per year if they offered three places.
It is concerning that even by offering just one funded place they could face losing a sizeable chunk of income which could equate to a mortgage payment or a month’s food and sundries.
Yes there are some local authorities’ where the hourly rate does cover the full cost of delivering a place; but in other areas the shortfall will have to be made up through supplements or by charging for lunch and other extras.
However, current government guidance is clear that charges cannot be a condition of offering a place; funding supplements are complex and could change in the future. It is a risk. Sadly none of this is likely to persuade many childminders to risk a cut in their income and deliver even one or two funded places.
So what can be done? For whomever forms the next government, it is vital that they recognise how the current commitment to 30 hours can only be achieved with a long term sustainable funding plan which must be subject to regular review.
The focus needs to be on four key areas: the provision of sustainable funding for funded childcare and early education places; ensuring quality is at the heart of all childcare early years policy and funding decisions; a workforce strategy in partnership with the sector which removes the key barriers to career progression and ensures practitioners are fairly rewarded for the vital role they play; and promoting childcare especially childminding, as a valued and viable career option.
It is clear we urgently need improved guidance on charging for additional services; as well as effective business support to enable childminders to work in partnership with other providers to share delivery of extended hours.
We want 30 hours to work for parents, and we know that childminders are vital to the success of the roll out. But childminders, and other providers, need better funding to be able to deliver funded places and still sustain their business.
Without this additional support, in four months’ time, many families will simply not be able to access the quality care and early education they so desperately need.
PACEY is committed to enhancing the support it offers all childminders. This summer we are launching a business sustainability toolkit developed by childminders for childminders. Part of this will include advice on how to assess if funded places could be delivered in your setting. Alongside this peer support will be provided by our network of PACEY Local facilitators and a campaign will be launched to champion childminding to parents, local; authorities and other key stakeholders.
Childminding needs to be better recognised as a high quality option for parents wanting to use their funded hours. With over 91% of childminders now graded good or outstanding by Ofsted, is time to bust the myth that funded places can only be used in a nursery or pre-school. We also need many local authorities to improve how they integrate childminding into their childcare offer, so parents can choose childminding or a combination of childminding and group care for their 30 hours.
Practitioners need to feel valued and able to progress in a profession which is no longer regarded as the Cinderella of education.