All children should be able to get free nursery education

There was an announcement  yesterday that the government has decided to bow to pressure and review the Early Years Free Entitlement Code of Practice. This sets out the rules and guidance for the 15 hours free nursery education which children are entitled to from the start of the term after they turn three.

There has been a national campaign for the Conservative Party to stick to its pre-election promise and allow private settings to charge ‘top-up’ fees. It seems likely that the review will result in this being allowed. This is good news for nurseries who are struggling to make ends meet because they currently have to give parents 15 hours free per week with no compulsory extra charges. It would mean they could insist that parents pay the difference between what the Local Authority gives the setting to provide the free entitlement (e.g. £3.50 per hour) and what they normal charge to cover costs (and/or make a profit) (e.g. £5.00 per hour). Personally, I do not think the money paid by the LEA should have to cover profits made by private businesses; others will disagree. What is certainly the case is that without the Graduate Leader Fund or some similar funding mechanism, the amount paid by Local Authorities is not enough to cover costs when staff are well qualified. You can’t expect and would have difficulty finding, a suitable Early Years graduate who will work for £8.50 per hour, which is the absolute most I could afford to pay someone (and I do not make a profit).

If the Code of Practice changes and I am allowed to charge ‘top-ups’ I could in theory charge parents an extra £1.00 per hour for each of the 15 hours and this would generate an extra £5000 income over a typical 13 week term. This would resolve any worries I have about income for my business; in fact it would allow me to employ another graduate on 0.5 FTE which would be fantastic. The problem with this is that my parents can’t afford £15.00 per week. My nursery is in a deprived area, doing exactly the sort of thing the Government says is important: providing high quality (OFSTED ‘outstanding’ June 2010) pre-school education with signposting to other services, advice, support and training for teenage Mums, support for families with EAL and children with SEN. Most parents are single or live in households where no-one has paid employment and £15.00 a week is too much. This would prevent their children from coming to my setting. I don’t think this is right; these children have, if anything, an extra need to attend a good quality nursery.

Another concern I have is that allowing top-up fees will enable the hourly funding which Local Authorities give settings to be reduced further (locally, ours is likely at best to be frozen which is a real terms cut especially with VAT rises etc). For example, LAs could give settings £2.50 an hour and claim it is adequate because the setting is allowed to charge parents the difference. This wouldn’t work in my setting and I would have to close the nursery meaning that local children would not have access to a good quality nursery place. I would have to make four people redundant who would then be claiming benefits, costing the taxpayer money.

Hopefully, all this will be thought through before any changes are made…

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10 Responses to All children should be able to get free nursery education

  1. Minus says:

    Although ideologically it would be great to offer a free nursery education to each child, are there any costings into it? All I can imagine is that if it matches primary education spending, it will cost an absolute fortune to offer this service to every child, and being able to offer a larger education budget in these troubled times (where we’re paying £120 million a day on servicing the interest of our national debt) seems like little more than a pipe dream or left-wing ideology.

    You seem to oppose any idea of offering greater profits to private industries, but what is the alternative? To nationalise nursery provision into another faceless beaurocratic body of the state with target-setting and middle-management costs which far exceed the costs of profits for small companies in the sector?

    I don’t really think you’re looking at this from an economic or feasibility angle, nor from an angle of necessity, but rather from the angle of ‘that’s a pretty nice idea’, which unfortunately isn’t enough reason to sign the taxpayer up to another whammy of spending.

    • anpa2001 says:

      We already have free nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds. I don’t want this to be inadvertently taken away from poorer children.
      Early investment in children’s education reduces expenditure later on in benefit payments and paying for people to be locked up in prison and increases tax revenues so it’s an investment, not money down the drain.

      • Minus says:

        That seems like a very utilitarian position, implying that children who aren’t given free education at ages 3-4 are more likely to be benefit claimants or inmates. Is there any empirical evidence to support that view?

        I think far too many people have this idea in their head that the state should bring up their children.

      • anpa2001 says:

        No, it does not imply that. High quality education improves people’s life chances.

  2. Minus says:

    High quality nursery education, or high quality education overall? I’ve never seen empirical evidence to support the idea that nursery education improves peoples’ life prospects. Would the money needed to support the campaign not be better invested in 11-16 year olds, who seem to be the ones falling off the education wagon?

  3. serge says:

    well i think you are wrong because how about if people are poor and they sighned up for this and they cant pay anymore

  4. serge says:

    well i think no because how about people that sighned up for this thing and the next year they get poor and they really need to pay for this tax what will they do?

    • anpa2001 says:

      Thanks for your comments; I think we might agree with each other. I think nursery education SHOULD be free and that parents shouldn’t be charged. Providers do need to be given enough funding to cover the costs of high quality staff too.

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