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Can we insist on more than 15 hours per week?


Vogue
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I'm after some advice. We are a nursery within an independent school and we accept funding for places. Our Governors want to change the policy to insist that all 3-4 year olds attend nursery for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

We're a bit surprised by this as we were under the impression that, as we accept funding, we're obliged to provide nursery places for only 15 hours per week to enable children from all backgrounds to attend without parents having to pay any extra fees.

I can't find any information on our LA website or by trawling through google - does anybody know how we stand?

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I know our local private school does this (3-18yr). They are quiet clear that their costs are 'XYZ' for the core hours which are more than 15, and that the 15 hours FEE can be used etc. They do not have to do a full school day (unless they choose to though)

Yes I fully understand the - 'not fair for disadvantaged families' and so on, but to be honest it is part of a fee paying school anyway so I really do not see a problem. The parents choosing this system of education expect to pay long-term anyway.

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We're a bit surprised by this as we were under the impression that, as we accept funding, we're obliged to provide nursery places for only 15 hours per week to enable children from all backgrounds to attend without parents having to pay any extra fees.

 

That is and always has been my understanding too - have you looked through the statutory framework - I'm sure it is in there........sooooo have just had a look myself and i was obviously dreaming - there is no mention at all :ph34r:

Further to that - as others have said - contact your LA Early years team

Please come back and let us know how this is resolved :1b

Edited by sunnyday
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It's in the code of practice I think, somewhere along with 'top up' fees - and something about the 15 hours have to be free at point of delivery i.e no deposits etc.

Personally I dont have a problem with it, parents can always choose to go elsewhere and at some point if we are not going to get any extra money in our funding then they are going to have to reduce some of these rules and regulations- or find themselves with more and more PVI'S closing.

Extending our hours by 30 minutes per session from 3 to 3.5 4/5 years ago and charging parents for the additional time was the one thing that bought us out of the red and gave us a slight edge on competitors. We dont insist on all doing 15 hours but make it quite clear to parents before accepting a place that most do and is what we expect. For those that dont want to or cant do the extra hours than they start their session times 30 minutes later than the others.

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In the Code of Practice for our area it does state that we have to offer 15 free hours - we can stipulate when parents can access these hours but if a parent only wants 15 free hours then we have to let them have them. We cannot insist that they do more hours. It also says as already mentioned that the 15 hours have to be free at point of delivery.

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Thanks everyone - I looked in the DfE's 'Early education and childcare statutory guidance for LA's' and there's a paragraph about Early Education Places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds that says:

"Ensure that if providers charge for any goods or services, for example meals, optional extras or additional hours of provision outside of the place, this is not a condition of children accessing their place. "

So we fed this back and were duly informed by the SMT that it doesn't apply to us as we're an independent school.

I'm a bit worried because I don't think that's true. It says 'Statutory guidance' - doesn't that mean it must be applied whichever LA you happen to be in or what sector you operate in? And while I totally appreciate the financial targets of the school, surely we are in danger of pricing disadvantaged children out of our high quality setting - thereby undermining the entire ethos behind nursery funding?

Hoping I'm not just being horribly naive.

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If the school wishes to accept the funding, it has to also meet the same conditions as the rest of us as far as I am aware ie no extra charges/conditions for place.

The school can of course opt out of receiving this government funding if it doesn't wish to allow any child the opportunity to only receive their 15 hrs entitlement ...

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Just what I was going to say greenfinch! If they are signing up to the LA's code of conduct they are under the same conditions as far as I'm aware that's it! I'd just phone up your local authority and tell them you want to remain anonymous that way you get it from the horses mouth so to speak! Our LA welcome calls from providers and parents questioning the delivery of the free early learning.

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Our thoughts exactly. The school has a choice and must opt out of the grant if they want to insist on 20 hours per week - they can't have it both ways.

Looks like we're going to have to contact the LA and hope the SMT will listen to them! Thanks for all the advice and reassurance. I'll let you know how it goes.

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although i said in my previous post that i would contact your lea (and i still think this is the case) it is really not unusual for settings to do this... a huge percentage of settings in this area (expensive area to live) only offer sessions that are longer than 3 hours so that you have to pay. All of out 'private' settings discourage only 15 hours and some give you no choice...it may go against the original plan for the government but some have been forced in to it because of the funding levels. None of our private schools offer only 15 hours that i know of!

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That's what I was afraid of finleysmaid. Do you think they all just hope that no parent will ever challenge it, or is the statutory guidance like The Code in Pirates of the Carribean - more guidance than statutory?!

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this is from our local council...

The free hours can be accessed in blocks of 2.5 - 10 hours per day, between 7 am and 7 pm. The nursery decide when and how they offer the free hours, eg some offer 3 hours per day, 5 days a week, or 5 hours per day, 3 days a week or other flexible patterns. If your child attends the setting for more hours than the free entitlement, the additional charges that the provider makes are at the discretion of the provider and should be clear and transparent to parents.

 

There is no mention of the ability to ONLY take the 15 hours...so it would suggest settings can do what they like!

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Interesting finlaysmaid.

Our private schools are definitely very 'clear and transparent' and quiet a few of our pre-schooler's by-pass the schools pre-school and come to us until they join the private school reception class. Whilst in a way although good for us to have them, it is a bit frustrating know exactly why we do :huh:

Due to bad management we are currently seriously struggling (although full) maybe our owner needs to read the agreement carefully and be a bit more creative!

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The code is very clear though, as Vogue stated earlier that extra hours should not be a condition of taking up a place. Unfortunately LAs often don't know this is happening until someone tells them, and can, dependent on how they view these things, refuse to fund a setting who flouts the rules, by effectively making additional 'compulsory' charges. (extortionate compulsory charges for lunch are another example of this). Obviously, any additional hours by choice can be changed at whatever your going rate is, but it should be clear that this is an optional extra, and not condition of taking the place. Private schools have to follow this the same as anyone else, or their other option is to opt out of funding altogether in which case they can then charge whatever they like.

 

The expectation is that the very poorest of families can still access the very best provision without the extra burden of additional fees/extras etc. (and the very best comes in all shapes and sizes!)The more settings do add on extras, the more it limits the choice of the very poorest families, especially in more rural areas where perhaps there are only 1 or 2 settings within a certain reach. In some cases this can result in the child not actually being able to take up a place anywhere, which sort of defeats the intention. Interesting, I do wonder if this in part contributes to the drive by the govt to have more schools based provision, as there tends to be (in our LA anyway) none of these 'compulsory' extras appearing in the maintained sector...unless others know otherwise of course? Just musing, might be barking.

Edited by mundia
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just to add to this our LA's admission policy for schools maintained/independent units (not PVI or voluntary) additional hours can only be offered (sold) for a term if places are available they cannot be guaranteed for the following term and parents must be notified of this. This is to ensure that all eligible children can access free early learning instead of possible places being taken up by those who pay, the only way parents can be guaranteed a place that they pay for on top of their free learning hours is if the nursery can prove that they have been running with surplus free places over the last two terms and do not predict a rise in the need for places. Just thought i would add this as this could also hinder the option to insist on hours above the 15 per week.

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this is from our local council...

The free hours can be accessed in blocks of 2.5 - 10 hours per day, between 7 am and 7 pm. The nursery decide when and how they offer the free hours, eg some offer 3 hours per day, 5 days a week, or 5 hours per day, 3 days a week or other flexible patterns. If your child attends the setting for more hours than the free entitlement, the additional charges that the provider makes are at the discretion of the provider and should be clear and transparent to parents.

 

There is no mention of the ability to ONLY take the 15 hours...so it would suggest settings can do what they like!

Although it does say "IF your child attends the setting for more hours that the free entitlement ...." - which would also seem to suggest that they should have the option not to do so? Or am I just clutching at straws? :blink:

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the code of conduct does not actually insist it just says SHOULD not must

To secure delivery, local authorities should:
A1.9 Ensure that if providers charge for any goods or services, for example meals,
optional extras or additional hours of provision outside of the place, this is not a condition
of children accessing their place.
so therefore it is not a legal requirement ...only musts are legal!
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You're right, I hadn't noticed that. They use terminology like 'LAs are required by law to' for some other clauses so there's obviously a reason for the differentiation. Thanks finleysmaid.


As some others have posted it must be up to individual LA interpretation as they all seem to be doing it differently. Luckily our LA rep is coming in next week so we can find out how seriously ours takes the 'should's.


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Well I know for a fact that quite a number of settings around here not only insist on extra hours but quite a few now charge a top up fee per funded hour. I have rang and told my LA in the past about two settings that were charging top up fees and nothing was done. Both settings also got outstanding in their last Ofsteds.

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Well I know for a fact that quite a number of settings around here not only insist on extra hours but quite a few now charge a top up fee per funded hour. I have rang and told my LA in the past about two settings that were charging top up fees and nothing was done. Both settings also got outstanding in their last Ofsteds.

Interesting that - I might have to try it myself :ph34r:

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just thought I'd update and say that we asked our rep and she told us that our LA doesn't enforce the requirement and so nurseries in our area can insist on whatever they like.

Good news for settings in our area, but not so good if you're a parent looking for a place at only 15 hours per week.

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We would view that without any doubt as a form of top up fee and would definately be speaking to any provider we found insisting on this as would most LA's in our area (NW). This would definately be a breach of our agreement and could result in a provider being removed from our directory of providers and thereby lose funding for FREE (not partially free with a requirement to purchase more) hours and places.

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I can't speak for other LA's but we feel the guidance is clear and unambiguous - if a parent wants to access only 15 hours then they must be able to - this is written into our SLA with all of our early years providers and all (100%) of them sign and agree to this.

As far as I am aware the challenge to LA's comes from their providers and parents, in the case of a parental complaint re being charged a top up fee or other pre entry conditions, we feel the LA has a duty (statutory and moral) to follow this up on their behalf, if they don't then poor practice such as this will continue. I work closely with 10 neighbouring LA's and we have jointly developed and share similar (if not the same) content of SLA's and follow up action regarding top up fees.

I agree with a lot of the other posts that the guidance could be more explicit regarding what does constitute a top up fee (and having to buy extra hours would certainly fall into this category) but we have all been delivering free entitlements long enough to know this by now.

Providers can always challenge an LA to the DfE if they believe that LA is flaunting/ignoring statutory guidance but I cannot say or guess what the DfE response might be, alternatively there is the main LA complaints procedures if a provider feels they have been treated unjustly.

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