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FSFRebecca
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We (FSF HQ) have been approached by the Petitions Committee at Westminster to share our views in answer to a series of questions.

The questions will be discussed on Monday 21st November and so we haven't got long to get our views together. I will need all the views by next Wednesday lunchtime (16th November) - that gives me a couple of hours to organise them and send them off to the committee. All comments will then be summarised and will form part of the 'debate pack' that is given to the MPs. I am going to attend the debate and will tell you all about it on the 23rd.

There are 3 questions - please make it clear which question you are answering! Not all the questions are relevant to us professionally, but they might be relevant to us personally - and any responses are very welcome.

 

1. How easy have you found it to find suitable childcare?
2. What are your thoughts on the cost of childcare? Is the Government giving parents the right support with childcare costs?
3. Are there problems with the availability of qualified childcare staff?
Think about the impact of this to you as a provider and to the parents that use your provision

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Q2 I have no problem with the government supporting working parents with help with childcare costs. However, they need to acknowledge the serious level of historical underfunding to providers for the "free" early education places and sort this out urgently before many providers close or stop offering "free" hours. If this was funded at the proper current market rate to cover a provider's costs, providers would not need to charge a much higher rate for additional hours/services to the parents, and this would in turn reduce the personal cost to parents. The Petitions Committee need to watch the Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding video to understand the problem and accept that many settings are subsidising these abysmal rates to the detriment of their business. If the government, as seems the case, will not fund these hours at a rate that will cover providers' costs, they need to stop calling them "free hours" and allow parents to use the monetary amount to offset their fees.

 

Q3 Yes - many people are leaving the sector due to low pay levels, which are in turn linked to the historically low levels of funding paid to providers for the "free" early education places. The requirement for GCSE Maths and English at grade C or above is preventing many people from entering the sector as they cannot progress to higher qualification levels. Many who would make excellent apprentices, for example, are being denied the opportunity to follow their preferred career path due to this requirement, whereas previously functional skills tests were deemed perfectly adequate. There are also many entering the sector, completing a level 3 qualification, which they then use to progress to teacher training so never enter the job market. The lack of suitable qualified staff will potentially have a huge impact on providers being able to provide 30 hours per week childcare from September 2017.

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I do believe grumpymum speaks for many of us and very eloquently. For my two penny'th I am bored with completing questionnaires regarding these issues, particularly because nothing comes from it. Clearly they are often an exercise in "let them think we are listening" Maybe this is why there is less and less response to these things, seriously how many studies does there have to be done to understand that this sector is under-funded and we need a softening of the rules about "topping up".

 

I am cross that they are extending to 30 hours when they can't get the funding right for 15.

 

I understand the need to lift the profession up in terms of the grades needed, but hand in hand with that is, if everyone is so very well qualified, that needs to be remunerated properly and that isn't easily done on funding money.

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Having just read some of the comments already online for this parent led petition - it seems to be very much about the high cost of childcare and how government doesn't help working parents but gives free sessions to non working parents of two year olds. I have only read a few - so there could be something positive. I will have a think Rebecca and answer your questions.

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I completely agree with grumpymum and she has put it far better than I could and think it is pointless repeating it.

 

Unfortunately I have to totally agree with Panders as well. I am SICK TO DEATH of consultations, questionnaires, etc, etc. They dont listen- she's right majority are just 'let them think we are listening' How many more times do they have to be told- the funding is not enough. It's really very simple either put it up for everyone OR allow us to charge a 'top up' fee. They even state in their consultation document 'majority of providers think that funding isnt adequate' Answer- The government disagrees with this!

Really?? Why ask then. I'm also sick of trying to be fobbed off with 'we are putting £1bn in to childcare over next x years' Great, doesnt help those that are on the brink of closing down now or will be after six months of 30 hour funding at the governments funding rate.

 

More than happy for you to pass this view on to the committee.

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I think the writers of this petition have missed the point about the funded hours for 2 year olds being 'childcare', and this shift in terminology over recent years (from early education to childcare) just conflates the issue. In this sense, I find myself agreeing with the govt response to this point, regarding the benefit of early education for 2 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

Onto q. 2 as I cant answer q.1. NO, I dont think the govt has this right. I can see why we would support working families with costs in order to support some parents back into work. But I think the salary cap has been placed far too high. If you're earning close to £100000 then sorry I believe you should afford your own costs. The same amount of money could be shared much more equitably by giving all providers a little more per hour, and reducing the number of families who can access it, perhaps with a sliding scale.

eg salary under 20K full 30 hours; between 20-30k, 25 hours etc (yes I know this could be tricky to manage but it cant be impossible to sort out).

I have never agreed with a top up fee so I don't believe this is the answer

 

q3. Yes certainly in our area, providers are finding it nigh on impossible to recruit good level 3 staff. It bothers me if the qualifications ratios change in any future statutory requirements just to get enough people in settings to deliver.

 

While I agree, it seems endless responding to this that and the other but you have to be relentless sometimes to be heard if you are really passionate about something. No response can lead to a conclusion that the matter has already been resolved to your satisfaction

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Q1. although I am not a user but a supplier I am very aware that in our area settings are closing on a regular basis because they can no longer afford to run at a loss with the serious historical underfunding. I operate in a very expensive area we have no choice but to find some way of offsetting some of these costs to parents.

Q2,I agree that the upper limit of 100k per parent is far too high. Other benefits for families are capped around the 55K mark. Parents on upper limits are able to afford the more expensive settings which in turn support other families (through cross subsidisation).

I am happy to support funding for childcare (or is it early education!!!!) at an appropriate and fair level for suppliers and parents/carers.

Funds that might have been used to support those on higher incomes could be better used to support parents from disadvantaged families in order to break the cycle of disadvantage. We need to work with these families, not remove their children in to settings at the earliest possible age!

Q3 Staffing is an issue because we are unable to compete with attractive salaries due to underfunding and rising costs. This is unsustainable. We cannot continue to supply the highest quality staff at the lowest possible rates! I do not believe that graduates are the answer as a 1-13 ratio does not help you change a nappy, or talk to a child or develop them on an individual level ...it only encourages 'group' teaching which is not effective for all children especially those needing support.

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The NDNA have today responded to the British Chambers of Commerce report - the report identified the tension that other FSF users have spoken about (above) between the need for childcare to enable parents to work and the need for a fair price to be paid for that childcare in order to guarantee the sustainability of providers. Key points from the NDNA response are:

 

“If the Government paid a fair price for these funded hours to allow nurseries to be sustainable without passing the shortfall onto parents, childcare would be much more affordable. This is a particular concern with 30 hours funded childcare due to be rolled out across England next September, and in Scotland and Wales shortly after as the funding shortfall will increase.
“We have called for the Government to either increase the base funding rate or give flexibility to allow nurseries to be able to charge parents for extras such as meals or activities as a condition of a place in order to make the childcare offer sustainable.
“The British Chambers of Commerce’s proposals for universal free childcare would provide a revolution for working families but it would need sufficient investment in order to be adequately funded.”
You can read the full statement and report from here. NDNA response to The British Chambers of Commerce.
If you have further views on the availability of childcare for parents and the availability of qualified staff for providers then please add them to the thread!
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or give flexibility to allow nurseries to be able to charge parents for extras such as meals or activities as a condition of a place in order to make the childcare offer sustainable.

I worry about this statement...I do not and cannot offer lunches (cooked) and I do not believe in supplying 'activities' ....I think we need to be careful not to 'allow' the government a get out clause which may effect the ethos of our business's

 

what I probably should have added to my info was also the fact that apropos to Q2 an increase in hours will result in less spaces for less children and will put paid to most funded 2 year old spaces....none of which is good for families

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1. How easy have you found it to find suitable childcare?


This question does not provide a definition in respect of the word "suitable" - is this suitable in terms of opening hours, number of days/weeks open or suitable in terms of the quality of care or suitable in some other way?


As a supplier I would suggest that the introduction of the 30 hours will mean that parents will find it more challenging to find any kind of childcare for the following reasons:


a. If a significant number of parents require 30 hours childcare for their children this will result in a net loss of available spaces overall unless "new" spaces are created (unlikely as current funding levels do not lend themselves to the provision of a sustainable business model).

b. Parents looking for suitable childcare in terms of quality will find it challenging as current funding levels combined with the Government's recommendation that early years settings reduce their staffing levels to keep them sustainable mean that quality of provision will be impacted.

c. Parents looking for suitable childcare in terms of nursery flexibility regarding operating hours/days/weeks will find it challenging to find settings that are able to offer provision covering "unsociable hours" as they will not have the resources to fund "unsociable hours" salaries as current funding levels keep the pay of early years workers at minimum/living wage levels.


2. What are your thoughts on the cost of childcare? Is the Government giving parents the right support with childcare costs?

a) The current funding arrangements are not fit for purpose. The "free" offer is not "free" in that it is being subsidised by providers or parents of children who do not access the "free" offer. This in effect means that paid for childcare is by necessity artificially inflated to make up for the losses incurred by underfunding of the "free" offer.

b) If it is the Government's intention to provide parents who can readily afford childcare with "free" childcare then yes. The current proposals for the 30 hours could after all result in parents working 16 hours per week earning say £115.20 per hour qualifying! If the Government is committed to supporting disadvantaged children then no they are not giving the right support with childcare costs. If the Government is committed to giving parents a choice of quality settings to access childcare and education for their children then no the Government is not giving parents the right support as inadequate funding is already causing early years settings to close their doors thereby reducing choice!



3. Are there problems with the availability of qualified childcare staff?

How can there be problems with the availability of qualified childcare staff?

a) There must after all be a surplus of qualified childcare staff currently looking for work - after all the Government is actively encouraging early years settings to cut their staffing by 10% to ensure that they operate efficiently on the pittance paid by early education funding.

b) There is obviously a plethora of qualified childcare staff queuing up to be paid the minimum or living wage (all providers can afford to pay whilst early education funding levels continue to fail to meet costs) instead of earning a £1 or £2 above this working for Lidl (other supermarkets are available) in the retail sector.

c) There are floods of applicants queuing up to undertake qualifications to enable them to be qualified childcare staff - why wouldn't there be given the status and pay accorded to this role - underfunding regrettably continues to make this an unattractive career prospect as underfunding demonstrates the low regard the Government has for the profession (even they don't want to pay what early years workers are worth) and low salaries compound the issue.
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I went to the debate on Monday - very interesting. There is absolutely no doubt that the MPs on both sides understand the issues - how to deal with them is where the differing opinions are.

The MPs had clearly read the debate pack they were given - Grumpymum and Finleysmaid were quoted in the pack. Petitions committee research briefing

 

You can watch the debate again from here - it doesn't look like I was there - managed to be behind the camera rather than in front, but I assure you that FSF was there listening and made ourselves known to the MPs after the debate.

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Oh how exciting that ive been quoted...lets hope the debate may clarify some thinking at least.I no longer hold out hope that the government will do any u-turns on this ...nor do I think they will come up with additional funding.....but lets cross fingers ;)

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