Well what busy times we have again in Early Years. More Consultation Responses published, sustainability and business ideas for early years and lots of example of business modelling on how to deliver 30 hours coming out. This latest round started for me at a 30-hour LED meeting, facilitated by Action for Children, in Birmingham less than 2 weeks ago. There was mention of an announcement coming before the end of the year and it came quicker than any of us thought! But first, what of that meeting? Essentially it was the beginning of what I see as the Government treadmill to get us to conform to their requirements. Hempsalls along with Mott McDonald (no I’ve never heard of them before either and don’t quite understand their link to the early years sector) and Action For Children have come together to form Childcare Works and they have been given £3million in order, from what I have seen so far, to teach us how to suck eggs, oh sorry, I meant how to run our businesses in the most efficient way to remain sustainable when 30 hours comes along. In fact, when they rolled out their ‘Getting Ready – 10 steps’ which had some revolutionary ideas such as charging for hours in between (or around) funded hours (!) – I really was sat on the edge of my seat – getting ready to run out of the room! Anyway I’ll let you all decide for yourself by looking at their presentation. And you know, who has ever thought to plot the children in a chart based on their attendance pattern – some amazing graphics and golden nuggets they have given us here! So here’s another thing – one of the ‘models’ exampled by Hempsalls – is what one LA has told providers they cannot do! This doesn’t bode well for the sector now does it?
Fortunately for us all I’m still rolling out our Funding the Gap Workshop, which will not patronise your business knowledge but will show you a sustainable model of charging based on your current business needs. If you are interested in coming onto a workshop then please Express your Interest and when we have enough in one location we will come to you. I’ve also given Hempsalls my number in case they want a sector specific professional delivering their government funded business support programme next year!
Now with the publication of the EYNFF Consultation Response (didn’t they push that one through quickly in 10 weeks – but well done to the full day providers being the single largest group to respond with 717 and childminders being the second with 428) the report from the DfE at the LED event is almost irrelevant. However, in case you want to check over the meeting slides you can do so here. Although, for me, the most productive part of the day was a conversation with Julie Hull from the DfE about sustainability. She was firstly quite surprised at the additional requirements that LA’s place upon providers and seemed genuine in her question as to why they would do that. I explained politely that this is how they get us to comply with what is an unsustainable level of funding, about which we had some further discussions which led to her asking how I remained profitable on current rates. ‘Because I charge a legal top-up’ I said and she replied “commercial shrewdness – that’s brilliant” and explained that the funding was never meant to cover hot lunches and additional activities – that these were not expected to be funded by the tax payer. So this set me to thinking that if this is the DfE’s position why indeed do the LA’s force these agreements, with their additional restrictions, on us – and I can only conclude that it is because they are afraid they will not meet their legal sufficiency duty – however, as those of us who are employing people know, you rarely get the best out of someone if you are beating them with a stick, much better to develop them through understanding their needs, supporting their learning, listening to them and developing a good line of communication to build on.
So we must now recognise that the Governments voice on this is saying loudly that we can charge for additional items – and have always been able to. They want to help us so much that they have even devoted a section of their website to Supporting Early Years Providers to run Sustainable Businesses which includes information on what you are allowed to charge for and a directory of suppliers for business support (although don’t hold your breath for any miracles in there – but I have asked how MBK Training can join it).
I am happy to acknowledge that they have raised the lower limit of funding to £4.30 for individual LAs who were on less than that (which in itself is a small victory) in reality this is merely still a ‘patch’ for a system that has quite obviously been recognised as neither fair nor fully funded in a way that it can be called ‘free’. This is something that is subtly reflected throughout the current information with a lower emphasis on the word free and the inclusion of new wording saying ‘publicly funded’, but in order to be truly fair and effective for us delivering on the front line then I think there is still some way to go. So the fight for fairness must continue and aside from the national battle we must all start now to look local. Our LA’s have spent far too long dictating to us, now that we are becoming co-ordinated and cohesive we must come together in groups and challenge some of the inclusions in their agreements, especially those that affect our sustainability. This opportunity comes to us with the consultations that LA’s will now have to do with their providers and Schools Forums. An organised local approach, which will also benefit from sight of the Model Agreement, must be strived for so that they can work with us in achieving their statutory duties rather than doing unto us to force us into unsustainability. Do you all know your Schools Forum PVI Representative – if not look them up on your LA website and get in touch. Make sure you have actually got some representation – it’s the law that each Forum has a PVI representative.
Your LA’s proposed rates are set out in the response tables but this PLA table has extracted the core information. The EYNFF response document and associated operational guidance documents do detail the requirements for LA’s and the Statutory Guidance will soon follow no doubt
Lastly one of the other things I came across and is now being promoted by the government is that the Family & Childcare Trust now seem to be sub-contracting to the DfE – and they have put forward a whole toolkit showing a range of models and thoughts on the 30 hours – in over 30 word documents which are rather tiresome to download! However, how telling is it that none of these models covers working with a full day care nursery? Do they consider we will not be needing to work with others or perhaps they expect us to be knocking at their doors in order to be delivering 30 hours – or are they just once again ignoring the sector to instil some kind of fear into us?
About the author: Tricia Wellings
Her passion for and knowledge of owning and running a nursery group and the issues within the sector that affect them is second to none. She continues to keep herself updated through regular meetings with PVI groups, Local Authorities, Ofsted Big Conversation and Conferences.
You can find our more about Tricia on her website www.triciawellings.co.uk