28th March 2024 Editors Pick All Posts

Managing the 2024 Nursery Funding Expansion- Webinar Takeaways

Recently, we had the privilege of hosting a webinar featuring a distinguished panel of experts: Courteney Donaldson, Andrew Clifford, and June O’Sullivan. These panellists bring a wealth of experience and insight to the table, each contributing unique perspectives shaped by their extensive involvement in the childcare and education sectors.

Courteney Donaldson, as the Managing Director of Childcare & Education Sectors at Christie & Co, is dedicated to the early years sector, offering invaluable advice and expertise to operators, investors, and institutions alike. Andrew Clifford, a Freelance Specialist Consultant at Red Dog Early Years Services, brings a strategic lens to the discussion, honed through his experiences in operational management and consultancy across diverse settings. Finally, June O’Sullivan OBE, Chief Executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), stands as a beacon of advocacy for children and families, shaping policy and championing community-based education.

Throughout the webinar, our panel discussed the intricacies of managing nursery funding expansion. From navigating underfunding challenges to addressing recruitment and retention crises, they provided invaluable insights into the sector’s current landscape. They also explore topics such as rising costs, wage pressures, and the importance of prioritising staff training and development. 

Join us as we explore the key takeaways from the webinar and uncover actionable insights to tackle the nursery funding landscape.

The history of early years funding policies and provision

Kicking off the webinar, Andrew highlighted the changes the childcare sector in England has undergone over the last three decades, with significant transformation from paper childcare vouchers. The landscape began to shift notably in the late 1990s, as education gained political prominence, leading to the introduction of free part-time early education for four-year-old children. Initially available in maintained nursery schools and primary school classes, this entitlement gradually extended to private and voluntary providers, marking the emergence of the PVI sector.

In those early days, funding mechanisms were relatively straightforward, reflecting a simpler landscape with fewer nurseries and predominantly full-time attendance patterns. However, as childcare attendance patterns diversified and occupancy rates fluctuated, the sector became increasingly complex, requiring changes to the funding models.

Despite these complexities, England has some of the world’s highest-quality childcare provision. Around this time last year, following the Spring Budget 2023, the Government announced that they would be extending the offer for free childcare. To support more parents returning to work after their parental leave ends. This is the biggest investment by a UK government into childcare in history, doubling the amount they expect to spend over the next few years from around £4 billion to around £8 billion each year.

Starting from April 2024, childcare support will expand gradually: 

  • By September 2025, most working families with children under 5 will get 30 hours of childcare.
  • April 2024: Eligible working parents of 2-year-olds get 15 hours of childcare.
  • September 2024: 15 hours extended to eligible parents of 9 months to 3-year-olds.
  • September 2025: Eligible parents with 9-month-olds to school age get 30 hours.

Financial sustainability in the childcare funding expansion

Touching on financial sustainability, June shed light on the profound impact of the forthcoming expansion, particularly for infants as young as nine months. Emphasising the crucial role of high-quality childcare in effecting positive change, she addressed a common misconception among parents: the assumption that increased government funding would directly translate into more disposable income. However, the reality is far more complex. Many childcare providers have found it necessary to raise fees to cover operational costs, prompting confusion and concern among parents.

The sharp rise in staff wages, nearly 20%, coupled with insufficient funding to meet rising utility expenses, poses a significant challenge for providers nationwide, with London facing particularly acute pressure due to soaring rents. These financial constraints not only jeopardise the viability of childcare businesses but also raise serious questions about the quality of care children will receive.

Andrew echoed these sentiments, acknowledging the longstanding issue of underfunding in the childcare sector, particularly for three and four-year-old funding. While the government’s expansion offers an opportunity for providers, it also presents risks. Providers must carefully evaluate their business models and pricing structures to ensure long-term sustainability.

Andrew cautioned against accepting the expansion offer blindly, urging providers to consider the feasibility of maintaining services without incurring losses over time. While initial rates may seem viable, the sustainability of such models in the face of escalating costs remains uncertain.

Ultimately, the challenge lies in balancing financial viability with the imperative of delivering high-quality childcare. As the sector grapples with these complexities, careful planning and strategic decision-making will be essential to safeguarding the wellbeing of both providers and the children they serve.

Clarifying the true costs of 'free' childcare for parents

When discussing the true costs of ‘free’ childcare for parents, Andrew emphasised the importance of understanding your childcare business, particularly the real costs involved. Armed with this knowledge, providers can make informed decisions about their operations. June followed proposing a proactive approach, suggesting the organisation of webinars for parents to explain the concept of ‘free’ childcare. These sessions would focus on the funding expansion, fostering a mutual understanding between providers and families.

June underscored the significance of parental engagement, highlighting its role in nurturing positive relationships and enhancing awareness about the early childhood sector. By empowering parents with knowledge about how children learn and the value of quality childcare, providers can amplify the voices of their staff and create a collaborative environment.

Courteney highlighted the resilience and innovation displayed by the childcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities came together to develop guidance and share best practices, demonstrating a collective commitment to supporting children and families during challenging times. This collaborative spirit underscores the sector’s dedication to continuous improvement and community-driven initiatives.

Early Years Funding- Free Download

Download this resource to discover the necessary steps your nursery can take to effectively navigate the latest funding complexities, and explore how to bust misconceptions that subsidised childcare is ‘free’.

Recruitment and retention in early years education

Recruitment and retention in early years education were also emphasised throughout the webinar as a pressing issue faced by most early years settings. Responding to this, Andrew highlighted the wealth of opportunities available for professional development within the childcare sector, emphasising that they do not need to come at a high cost. With the resources available such as webinars, podcasts, and extensive research publications, settings can leverage these resources to empower their teams. Encouraging staff to turn to research or tackle specific challenges fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth. Additionally, partnerships with local providers offer avenues for specialised training, leveraging the expertise within the community to enhance staff skills and knowledge.

Courteney then highlighted the importance of language and culture in recruitment and retention efforts. Small gestures, such as creating a welcoming staff room or appointing wellbeing officers, can significantly impact staff morale and retention. Recognising and celebrating staff achievements, along with offering flexible working arrangements, further demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to supporting its team members.

June commented on the value of diversity in team composition, noting that a mix of ages, backgrounds, and experiences contributes to a richer learning environment for both staff and children. Apprenticeships, when properly supported and integrated into the organisation, offer a pathway for aspiring educators to develop essential pedagogical skills and contribute meaningfully to the early years sector.

By prioritising professional development, building a supportive workplace culture, and embracing diversity, early years education providers can attract and retain talented staff while nurturing a dynamic learning environment for children.

We hope you found this summary informative, but we strongly recommend catching up on the webinar if you missed it. The webinar offers an overview of the funding expansion from the beginning to where we are now. The panellists also provide valuable insights and important factors to consider throughout the funding expansion. Access the webinar for free here, for golden nuggets of information, tips and knowledge of the expansion.

Catch up on the Webinar

Access the webinar for free here, for golden nuggets of information, tips and knowledge of the expansion.
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Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare