In 2017 the amount of care that is free to parents of three and four-year olds is being increased from 15 to 30 hours a week during term-time.
The government has promised extra transitional funding for 400 nursery schools maintained by local authorities – but only for two years. Two-thirds of these are in the most deprived areas of England.
Prospect has members working in various types of early years setting, including private, voluntary and independent nurseries. The union warned in June that many settings would end up offering fewer free places because they simply could not afford the new 30-hour scheme.
Yesterday (22 September) the National Association of Head Teachers warned that many local authority maintained nurseries could face closure when the temporary funding runs out.
The head teachers’ union cited the findings of joint analysis conducted with the charity Early Education in its response to the consultation. In Birmingham, for example, maintained nursery schools received an average of £8.36 an hour per child in 2015-16. This would fall to £4.44 an hour in 2017-18.
Early Education warned in its consultation response: “Overall the proposal to radically reform the funding formula at the same time as introducing the 30 hours is simply introducing too much uncertainty into the system." This high-risk approach could see vulnerable children displaced and settings closed, the charity added.
Prospect’s own response pointed out that the government’s review of childcare costs “defines efficiency mainly as sticking to minimum ratios. It promotes the type of contracts that allow staff to be sent home unpaid when child numbers drop".
Negotiations executive Claire Dent said: "Importantly children need consistent staff, but the 'efficiency' suggested gives the impression that a body in the room is all that is required.
“It does not take account of other duties, for example doing the washing, assessment and planning, or multi-agency meetings. Staff also need to take breaks.”
Prospect's response also opposed the idea of staff being paid more in one area than another for equal work. “This will only encourage well qualified staff to work in more affluent areas, widening the divide in the quality of care delivered to children,” said Dent.