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Village Pre-schools - Anyone Else Struggling?


ForestFlo
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HI

Im the chair of a small village preschool and have been for the last 4 years.

I just wanted to know if other small committee led pre-schools are struggling to survive at the moment?We have faced sustainability issues for the last 3 years and I honestly think we are reaching the point of no return. :o

I have 3 different county advisors coming in the next 2 weeks, an emergency parents meeting and our numbers are crippling.

 

The pre-school staff are very aware of how bad things are. The frustrating thing is the pre-school is offering the best provsion it ever has- we've got a good Ofsted, fantastic forest school,unprecedented links with the primary school, the provision we offer is really good we just dont have bums on seats.I thinks its just a combination of the current financial climate causing parents to cut back or look for full daycare and we have two purpose built nurseries within a 5 minute drive who also offer the govt free entitlement for 3-5 and of course now there is no top up fee why wouldnt you choose to send your child there.

 

Its just so sad to think the village may well before the end of the year lose such a fantastic resource which has been central to the community for 40 years!

 

Sleepless nights aplenty!

Kxx xD

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Hi Kirsty, I'm chair of our local group and have been for about 3 years.

We are limited to the hours we can offer and how much we can charge because there are other calls on the church hall. We put our fee's up to £8.50 a year ago but we've found since then that ore people are waiting to start until they can claim the funding so we're no better off!

Every month is a struggle. Our bank balance is lower than its ever been, minimum wage increases and resources increase but our income is pretty much fixed.

One of our staff is pregnant and although she is an excellent practitioner, I'm secretly hoping she wont want to return to work so we can reduce a staff member, another one has hinted she might leave in the not too distant future and I'm crossing my fingers for that too!

Fundraising doesnt seem to work too well these days either, I've been part of the group for 18 years and have watched parent involvement drop year on year.

We're lucky that the nly other provision is a CC which is slightly out of the way and the only other setting doesnt offer full day care either so we manage to keep afloat. Unfortunatly teh playleader tol me today that the waiting list for September doesnt look good and usually at this time of eyar we'd have more children attending in the afternoon.

All we can do is keep plodding on.

Edited by Rea
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kirstyc ...firstly i am so sorry to hear you are having problems i thnk we can all empathise in some way with what you are going through. If you tell us a bit more info i am wondering whether the practitioners on here might be able to give you some help.

Perhaps it is time to take some really serious decisions...how many children have you got, how many staff? if you want to post again about it then there are an awfl lot of us that may have info to help. Only if you feel you want to of course. :o

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HI

Thanks for your replies.

 

We are a pack away setting in a village hall competing with two close by nurseries who offer longer hours/daycare. However we have the most fantastic links with the primary school - our transition is fab and we have a year round forest school which has been nominated for an award.

 

We have spent the last year economising, I have cut costs so there is nothing left to cut, staff hours have been reduced to the minimum to fulfil safeguarding requirements. There are 5 of us on the committee and between us we raise around £400 a term (not bad considering so few kids!!) but it doesnt touch the sides. We have marketed the pre-school within an inch of our lives, worked alongside the childrens centre, toddler group and school.

 

Ive had the PDO in, area business manager, EYFSA and we have carried out all they have asked us to do. Im currently analysing birth rate data to look at whether there is any point in applying for a sustainability grant through county. We stand to make a £200 loss this term, £1200 next term and that will be it, 3 lovely members of staff made redundant. We need 9 children a day to break even - currently we have 8,6, 9 and 11 the numbers for September are far worse. We also need new committee members which is a completely different matter!

 

The parents meeting in two weeks time will trigger decisions as to what we'll do.

 

Im not looking for a miracle solution but needed to share as to be honest I feel like Ive got the weight of the world on my shoulders at the mo

K

xx

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Hi Kirsty. Sadly we are also in the exactly the same boat as you. I've just been told by yet another person unconnected to our setting how good a reputation we have but it just isn't translating into attendances. We haven't finalised the decision yet but I think it is very likely we will cease to operate in summer. It is heartbreaking to have to make the decision but there doesn't seem to be another answer. Sorry I can't offer any suggestions to solve the problems but if it makes you feel better you are not alone.

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I am also really sorry to hear of your dilemma at this moment in time.

We are also in what is called a village but on the outskirts of a larger town with lots of new homes. Although the majority of home owners in our area are predominantly older, the new estate has brought many young families to the area, and although there are 7 other Pre-schools and a Day nursery there are plenty of children to go round.

So i know this not what you want to hear but we do continue to flourish after 44 years,[ tempting fate now].

This is what i find so wrong about funding, etc in that the very place you describe and the children and families that you cater for are just as entitled to a good Early years provision as those in the inner city areas.

 

So what can you do to continue to stay afloat, well certainly look at your staffing, you may find if you were able to discuss this with your staff team that some may be willing to drop sessions, rather than lose their job totally.

Contact your local MP to see if there is anything they can do to support you.

Do a big advertising campaign with flyer drops through letter boxes, local town, small businesses, clinics etc.

What about an article in the local paper, highlighting what a great facility you have and come and join us, with spaces available.

Are you able to tell us how many children/staff you currently have to help advise.

Is a mother and toddler club possible at all to entice people to come or something similar.

Wishing you well and hope you have some positive support from your advisors.

Take care bridger x

Edited by bridger
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We're also 'bucking the trend' as regards numbers of children attending - they are coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. But what we're finding is that they aren't attending as many sessions with well over half of them only taking only a couple of sessions a week. In practice this means that I have more staff than we actually need as regards numbers of children attending each session, but with each key person having at least 10 children, there's not a lot else I can do - even the NVQ2 has key children, and we've not really done that before. The amount of paperwork means that I don't feel that newly qualified staff can be burdened with more key children than this.

The consequence of this is that we're sailing very close to the wind as regards finances, with no buffer left now. Staff are aware of this and we've raised fees and pared back as much expense as we possibly can.

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It's not just us then! We only opened in september last year and are really struggling to build numbers we only have children 3 days a week at the moment. It doesn't help as we have only just had our validation visit for NEF. there are 2 playgroups in neighbouring villages which are both full but we seem to hear really bad reports about 1 but people still keep using it!

 

We are planning on doing another leaflet drop to see if that helps.

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Kirsty it sounds as if you have been doing everything you can to keep the playgroup afloat, you should be very proud of your efforts.

I can understand why you want to keep it going, I'd be distraught if ours had to close, thats actually the only reason I'm chair, (to keep it open despite having no committee) but if the worse comes to the worse at least you will know you tried your very best.

Good luck in finding a solution but if you dont, try to find the money to go out with a huge party :o

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We're also 'bucking the trend' as regards numbers of children attending - they are coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. But what we're finding is that they aren't attending as many sessions with well over half of them only taking only a couple of sessions a week. In practice this means that I have more staff than we actually need as regards numbers of children attending each session, but with each key person having at least 10 children, there's not a lot else I can do - even the NVQ2 has key children, and we've not really done that before. The amount of paperwork means that I don't feel that newly qualified staff can be burdened with more key children than this.

The consequence of this is that we're sailing very close to the wind as regards finances, with no buffer left now. Staff are aware of this and we've raised fees and pared back as much expense as we possibly can.

 

 

I have a similar situation to Cait, but I am privately owned. I have children doing 2/3 sessions with us and 2/3 with other settings - parents want their child to experience choice! But as Cait is finding out, we have a lot of children on the roll, I would just rather have my registered for amount, i.e. 20 per day all doing full time, this spread between the 5 of us would be fantastic, but sorting key workers working patterns with the childrens attendance patterns just causes headaches all round with so many more on the roll.

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Kirsty i am sure that you have thought of loads of things to help...i think raising £400 per term is fantastic. I think using the press is a fantastic idea,,,play on the heart strings get past pupils from the village involved and a big banner saying save our pre-school with pictures of lots of sad children. The advantage you have to working in a village is that they will be behind you. What can the church do to help and the town council...speak to them you may be surprised what they can help with (ours found us new premises!!)

I think you need to drop a member of staff and use the parents to help out ...you could even use this as a selling point and become a true community pre-school. Are you offering what people want and are the other nurseries full? if they are also struggling for numbers then there is little you can do. Are your parents looking for more hours (you only quote numbers for 4 days...are you open 5?) can you find any grant funding from local businessess?...or community funds (church/local council/borough council/big business/private donations) have your parents got any connections?? have you got funds to close(redundency etc??) are you operating rent free...if not can you ask for a rent free period (landlords would rather have you there)

 

Please please dont give up yet...we are all here to support you...your community needs you but you need to' adapt and survive' can you take funded 2 year olds?? or change your admissions criteria to take younger ones?

 

Your parents are key of course but i do find that sometimes they are wiling to give up too quickly if the leaders dont have any ideas or a plan...you need to rally support...and buy a lottery ticket!!!

could you become private and sell 'shares' in the group to raise money

I guess what i am rambling on about is trying to think outside the box...i know from experience that this is difficult when you are in the middle of a crisis

Please feel free to ignore me(i have had a couple of glasses of wine!) but i also run a community pre-school and we have had to make radical changes to grow the business...we also have been going for over 40 years and i was also determined not to be the person who closed it. I only offer the above advice because i understand...please know that we all feel for you.so many of my colleagues have been in your position recently.

hugs.... :oxD

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Really sad to hear of you problems we too are a small village community based pre-school established for over 40 years now. Why are you struggling? Is it your numbers (sounds unlikely with a track record we could only dream of), is it lack or parental volunteers for your committee? This is the biggest problem we face.....we have simply had to adapt...the staff team have taken over major roles in the pre-school management and the parents on the committee have their workload kept to a minimum...when a parent does volunteer to take over a piece of the action we of course jump at the opportunity but we do recognise that in todays world committee work takes a big second seat to just about everything else...simply because in the modern world there is lots of other stuff that parents feel is more important....as we have become more professional as pre-schools (moved away from mothers running settings, demanding qualifications and CRB checks) so many parents see us like schools somewhere where their children go and they expect us to do the work. The level of knowldge that parents are expected to have, accounts, policy, legislation etc are all barriers to engaging committee members (some families I work with still have parents who are not fully literate).......if your problem is similar then maybe your staff could absorb some of those additional tasks....as a team each taking a bit and then work with the few committee members that you get. Dont forget to use the internet sites like facebook or the newspapers to make appeals for committee memebrs or address your plight...somtimes it is only when pushed to the edge that we adapt and change to a new environment and what IS clear is that running a community based pre-school in 2012 is very different to running one just 10 years ago!

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We've managed not to cut hours or pay, because we've lost 3 members of staff who were all overpaid... Which being overpaid was why we were struggling, but the directors are being a lot more hands on now and pay rates are only decided by directors at meeting...

 

But the point I was going to make was that one of the directors said that when she worked in preschool, nearly 40 years ago, they had a rough patch in which most staff worked voluntarily to get it over the rough patch - she was the only staff member paid as her husband was out of work at the time.

 

Would the staff be able to reduce their paid hours while still doing as many hours?

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HI

Im the chair of a small village preschool and have been for the last 4 years.

I just wanted to know if other small committee led pre-schools are struggling to survive at the moment?We have faced sustainability issues for the last 3 years and I honestly think we are reaching the point of no return. :o

I have 3 different county advisors coming in the next 2 weeks, an emergency parents meeting and our numbers are crippling.

 

The pre-school staff are very aware of how bad things are. The frustrating thing is the pre-school is offering the best provsion it ever has- we've got a good Ofsted, fantastic forest school,unprecedented links with the primary school, the provision we offer is really good we just dont have bums on seats.I thinks its just a combination of the current financial climate causing parents to cut back or look for full daycare and we have two purpose built nurseries within a 5 minute drive who also offer the govt free entitlement for 3-5 and of course now there is no top up fee why wouldnt you choose to send your child there.

 

Its just so sad to think the village may well before the end of the year lose such a fantastic resource which has been central to the community for 40 years!

 

Sleepless nights aplenty!

Kxx xD

 

Hi

 

I whole heartedly sympathise with you. I too am a village pre-school. Since going over to the SFF (single funding formula) I am a little better off due to being in an area of deprivation. We too have a good reputation and so I took the risk of increasing my fees last year and have not been so soft in letting parents pay as and when they could afford it. This has helped us. It is difficult with having 2 full day care nurseries close by for you. Have you tried putting out parent questionnaires to find out why parents choose the nurseries instead of the village pre-school? Ask them to be as honest as they dare with a confidential box to post their questionnaires in. Just a thought as we have had to reflect and alter a lot of what we do after receiving feed-back. Hope it all works out for you.

K

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Hi, just wanted to say we too are a struggling village pre-school running for 48 years.

 

Others have said exactly what the issues are facing us - I have just asked the parents via a tick sheet (anonymous) the question fundraising or higher fees? - most have come back saying 'higher fees' very interesting that, seeing as most of them waited until they were funded to even start, so they aren't paying a penny!!

 

The staff have all reduced their pay by an hour per week - not that they were particularly happy but it needed to be done - our committee asked us all reduced pay or lose a member of staff we did this as anonymously via tick on a sheet which went in a box so (hopefully) no one felt pressured. We are all minimum wage now (didn't used to be but haven't had a pay rise for years) so there's no other option.

 

Does anyone know if we are heading for a dip in birth rate for September starts??

We too don't have as good a waiting list as we usually do. I do know lots of people in our area are now waiting until their children are eligible to start the school nursery (aged 3) and missing out the playgroup experience altogether, which obviously doesn't help :o

 

 

Sounds like you are doing a great job though £400 per month fundraising is fantastic you should be very proud

GOOD LUCK

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I sympathise with you too and although not a committee member i have returned as a Supervisor to my village preschool- it has always had years some better than others- it does not help that the village school takes children at 4 ( but as a governor) i can understand both sides though this does not help - our numbers are rising only very slightly but we are relaunching ourselves with new website (£11) and extending opening hours as we too have lots of competition, we could take from 2yrs but I am concerned with the extra work involved.

The reason i returned was not only to further my career but mainly i did not want to see a community provision disappear.I think it is because most parents have to work and need longer childcare hours. we do not even charge any top up fee so some are getting it absolutely free.

I do like your idea, kerry of parent questionairre .

best of luck to all of us

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We've managed not to cut hours or pay, because we've lost 3 members of staff who were all overpaid... Which being overpaid was why we were struggling, but the directors are being a lot more hands on now and pay rates are only decided by directors at meeting...

 

But the point I was going to make was that one of the directors said that when she worked in preschool, nearly 40 years ago, they had a rough patch in which most staff worked voluntarily to get it over the rough patch - she was the only staff member paid as her husband was out of work at the time.

 

Would the staff be able to reduce their paid hours while still doing as many hours?

 

 

Yes but 40 years ago they wouldnt have had all the paperwork, legislation and restrictions that we do now. 40 years ago nearly all setttings were run by non professional parent volunteers. Today we are supposed to be professional. You cannot for example expect someone who has studied for years to level 3 etc. to then go unpaid. Either we are professionals or we are not.....just imagine the whoohaa if government suggested that everyone do a months work without pay to aid the economy. Use your resources well...dont lose staff (as many are on minimum wage where I work I certainly would not call any of them overpaid)..cut spending elsewhere..thermostats down a degree, get parents to fund raise for equipment, recycle & reuse rather than buying new and make sure your costs are under control.....flash equipment and nice card for crafts etc are all very well but they are extravagences which can be removed leaving you to concentrate on high quality staff doing a good job.

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We've managed not to cut hours or pay, because we've lost 3 members of staff who were all overpaid... Which being overpaid was why we were struggling, but the directors are being a lot more hands on now and pay rates are only decided by directors at meeting...

 

But the point I was going to make was that one of the directors said that when she worked in preschool, nearly 40 years ago, they had a rough patch in which most staff worked voluntarily to get it over the rough patch - she was the only staff member paid as her husband was out of work at the time.

 

Would the staff be able to reduce their paid hours while still doing as many hours?

 

 

This will no longer work these days... moneys paid have to be above minimum wage so anyone earning must be above this, even if they say some hours are unpaid they still count as the hours worked and hence included when working out the hourly rate.. and unpaid hours included would well take them under this and could leave a setting with issues..

 

along with as stated things were different and mostly no training to run the groups that long ago... I worked in one 25 years ago and we had to be trained to run one but all other staff were volunteers with not training at all, paperwork was a register and complying with the social services requirements.. so much less than now..

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Yes but 40 years ago they wouldnt have had all the paperwork, legislation and restrictions that we do now. 40 years ago nearly all setttings were run by non professional parent volunteers. Today we are supposed to be professional. You cannot for example expect someone who has studied for years to level 3 etc. to then go unpaid. Either we are professionals or we are not.....just imagine the whoohaa if government suggested that everyone do a months work without pay to aid the economy. Use your resources well...dont lose staff (as many are on minimum wage where I work I certainly would not call any of them overpaid)..cut spending elsewhere..thermostats down a degree, get parents to fund raise for equipment, recycle & reuse rather than buying new and make sure your costs are under control.....flash equipment and nice card for crafts etc are all very well but they are extravagences which can be removed leaving you to concentrate on high quality staff doing a good job.

 

I had a level 3 trained manager paying herself £15 per hour, and paying an unqualified member of staff £7.50 per hour as a trainee manager... I would call them overpaid! Well, they've gone now, and we are getting out of the mess we've been in.

 

But point taken about not wanting to work unpaid hours or being able to have unpaid hours.

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I had a level 3 trained manager paying herself £15 per hour, and paying an unqualified member of staff £7.50 per hour as a trainee manager... I would call them overpaid! Well, they've gone now, and we are getting out of the mess we've been in.

 

But point taken about not wanting to work unpaid hours or being able to have unpaid hours.

 

 

Crikey as a manager of a community based pre-school with an honours degree ...I dream of £15 an hour! :o

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Hi All

Thank you all for your replies Im really greatful - my head is so full its great to hear other peoples suggestions.

In answer to some of your questions...

  • No I cant cut staffing any more, I spent the summer/autumn alongside our development officer working on this and have cut staffing to the required minimum and none of my staff are paid huge amounts and are in line with county average. We have a student volunteering twice a week for free which has allowed me to cut hours further and alhough I hae 3 members of staff they are all part time and only the supervisor works all of the days. I certainly wouldnt expect them not to be paid, they work hard at what they do and I am very proud of them, as a qualified teacher myself I still find the inequalities between preschool staff and teaching staff baffling in terms of pay.
  • The issue is both numbers and committee members! Hence the parents meeting with our development officer next week, we need parental support, I am supposed to resign this year as chair when my son goes to big school, the treasurer will also be leaving. errggghhh :o
  • We take children from 2 (something we did last year to try to boost numbers) and have tried to get two year old funding - I am currently awaiting the result of our assessment as I have had to appeal against their decision.
  • Our spending is CUT there is nothing being spent apart from essentials
  • The birth rate for last year in our village is low (10 children) however there are 34 2-4y olds somewhere that could currently be on our books.

I think the " your preschool needs you" marketing campaign is great, also like the idea of a questionnaire.

I have a meeting with the business advisor on Tuesday and then the parents meeting/committee meeting next Tuesday. The headteacher from the primary school has also agreed to come to show his support. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

Its so hard to stay positive when I have others saying walk away, and the time has come for the pre-school to close. But I cant imagine the village without it at the hub! The day nursery simply could not fill that hole!!

 

Thank you all once again

 

 

Kirsty

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Its so hard to stay positive when I have others saying walk away, and the time has come for the pre-school to close. But I cant imagine the village without it at the hub! The day nursery simply could not fill that hole!!

Kirsty

 

I know exactly how you feel, I can't bare the thought of this either at our setting, and it's this that keeps me battling on - Good luck!

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Meeting with the Business advisor not so great but then I knew it wouldnt be. The birthrate since 2005/6 had dropped significantly in our village hence the problems we face. Damn the recession and all its uncertainties!!

Feel sick at the prospect of tomorrows parents meeting
:(

Kx
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We're in a similar position and while we have lots of children and more waiting to start in September, we just cannot cover our costs with the funding at the present rate. If we put our fees up, parents would reduce the hours their children do, or wait to start until they are funded. I'm thinking that the only thing to do will be to reduce staff numbers and have a parent volunteer in every day, but that would compromise the continuity of care for the children - and most of our parents would not be willing to take their turn .... I'm even thinking of suggesting that we all take a pay cut, but as 4 out of the 6 of us are on little more than the minimum wage, most of this would fall on me and I know that most of my staff really need their money.

 

We have a great committee who do a lot of fundraising so that is not a problem, its just disheartening to realise that there sems to be nothing we can do to turn the situation around apart from asking staff to work for nothing. I would hate to be the manager who closed the pre school specially as I live here too.

 

Jo

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