Much has been done over the last few years to find ways of supporting parents with childcare costs including employers’ childcare vouchers, childcare tax credits and subsidised childcare through the CAP pilots.
We would all agree that quality childcare is key to achieving good early years outcomes and is the building block for educational achievement in later years, but providing quality does come at a price, small and independent nurseries are feeling the pinch, far from raking it in and become rich many are either closing or selling out to the large chains. Ofsted figures indicate there are 69 fewer nurseries registered than at the end of 2011, but they also report a rise in the number of registered places.
In a time when wages are staying static or in some cases reducing, household bills are continuing to rise above inflation, coupled with the reduction in childcare element of WFTC, parents have to make some difficult decisions. Many are reducing the number of paid for childcare hours, where possible maximising their free flexible entitlement, using a mixture of professional and casual childcare options; for example 3 days at nursery and 2 days with Grandparents or other relatives; going part time or even opting to giving up work altogether.
The impact of this on the nursery sector is a reduction in children accessing a full time place, an increase in children accessing part time places and requests for Flexible free entitlement only places.
Like parents, nursery owners are seeing a rise in their operating costs; providing and maintain a quality environment requires experienced quality staff and quite rightly highly trained professional staff come at a cost.
So how does a nursery owner juggle running a sustainable business, maintaining a quality environment and meeting the needs of their paying customers?
Provision of quality affordable childcare, supporting parents into work and issues around the level of funding for the Free Flexible entitlement will continue to be a political hot potato for some time.