Is a Pro-Preschool Policy Closing English Nurseries?

Is a Pro-Preschool Policy Closing English Nurseries?
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Why you should care

A policy to help England’s working parents with preschool children is punishing child care providers instead.

Nurseries and childminders in the U.K. are struggling to pay their staff the minimum wage, citing funding problems resulting from government policies.

Under an initiative rolled out last autumn, working parents in England with 3- and 4-year-olds are entitled to 30 hours of fully funded child care per week.

But a recent survey conducted by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) found that:

Since last autumn, closures of nurseries and other child care providers in England have increased 47 percent.

“One in five English nurseries expect to make a loss, and many fear they may have to close their doors,” says Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA. “It’s about time government woke up to the full cost of delivering their 30 hours ‘free’ child care policy.”

According to the NDNA, the annual gap between the cost of providing child care and what the nursery receives in funding from local authorities has grown to an average of £2,166 ($2,841) per child.

Nurseries said they were being forced to restrict the number of places they offered, hold back on hiring or charge parents for extras, such as food or excursions, to make up the shortfall.

The policy has also created a huge administrative burden, with nurseries reporting they lose at least one full working day each week to dealing with the new system and helping parents register.

The NDNA also reported that about a third of nurseries had experienced late payments from local authorities. The average wait time is three and a half weeks, but one-third of nurseries surveyed were paid late — after four weeks or more.

It beggars belief … [that] the government continues to dig its heels in and insist that everything is fine.

Neil Leitch, chief executive, Preschool Learning Alliance

Separately, members of Parliament on the treasury select committee published the government’s response to its child care inquiry. The government said it remained committed to delivering “good quality child care” and would continue to “support parents with the costs of child care,” but did not concede that the sector was inadequately funded.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Preschool Learning Alliance, says: “It beggars belief that in the face of such overwhelming evidence that the child care sector in England is inadequately funded, the government continues to dig its heels in and insist that everything is fine.

“Recent independent research revealed that there is currently a half-billion shortfall in sector funding. Clearly this is not a problem that is going to go away on its own, and the fact that the [Department for Education] is ‘continuing to monitor delivery costs’ will offer little comfort to the many child care providers across the country who face potential closure if things don’t change.”

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By Lucy Warwick-Ching

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