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analysis extended entitlement

Sector is split over decision to

Two surveys show that many se ings will not be able to offer parents places for the extended

● Early years settings unable to meet demand for two-year-old places ● Many nurseries remain undecided over expanding o ff e r ● Underfunding, recruitment issues and limits to space to blame

With the expanded offer for two-year-olds less than six weeks away, the Government’s promise of places for parents of younger children looks increasingly precarious.

A survey shared with Nurser y Wo r l d by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has found that more than half of private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries are unlikely to, or don’t yet know whether they will, offer places for under-threes.

Meanwhile, the Early Years Alliance, which has carried out a similar provider survey of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, ahead of the expansion of the funded 15 hours for two-year-olds in England, found that the majority of its respondents expect to struggle to meet demand for the offer.

Both surveys from the two leading sector and membership organisations for early years providers highlight the familiar themes of underfunding, lack of available places and staff shortages, with many respondents stating that they have not yet received notification from their local authority of their funding rates from April, when parents of two-year-olds expect the offer to be available.

Given the current funding crisis, recruitment challenges, inflation, and rising costs across the board, it is hardly surprising that many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders feel unable to commit to expansion.

NDNA’s key concerns are that the PVI sector is not prepared for the Government’s promised childcare expansion due to chronic underfunding over the years, an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis, and lack of capital funding to expand. With childcare a key focus for an upcoming general election, the Conservatives’ aim to win voters with a family-friendly policy could well backfire, with frustrated parents unable to access the scheme because there simply aren’t enough places to go round for two-year-olds. The situation looks only to be exacerbated when the funded places are expanded again to parents of nine-month-olds and above, which starts in September. The findings of both surveys have been released ahead of the Spring Budget on 6 March.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, said, ‘We have taken the temperature of the nursery sector at a crucial time and found that it is not as healthy as it should be in order to deliver the Government’s ambitious promises.

‘When the Chancellor announced his plans, the key aim was to boost the economy by supporting working parents. But a week before this year’s Budget, we now know that the majority of nurseries who responded cannot commit to offering additional two-year-old places.’ Will nurseries offer places? According to the NDNA State of the Sector England survey, just over four in ten PVI nurseries (43 per cent) are unlikely to offer places for under-threes, and 11 per cent said they don’t know if they will do so. The NDNA survey ran throughout January; it covered 448 nurseries, including single sites, small groups and chains.

According to the Alliance survey, just over two-thirds of those currently offering places to two-year-olds (69 per cent) are planning to offer the scheme.

However, nearly a third are almost split equally between remaining undecided (15 per cent) or planning to offer a limited number of funded places

This expansion is going to put even more pressure on an already stretched and underfunded sector ALLIANCE SURVEY

and charge privately for the rest (13 per cent). Moreover, the Alliance said that 3 per cent of providers surveyed are considering opting out entirely of offering the extended funded hours for two-year-olds. Financial pressures Both surveys highlight the stark impact of ongoing financial pressures on providers, which will have a knock-on effect on their offer to parents via fee increases and extra charges. The NDNA said many parents are concerned at high fees and charges, which may be the only option for nurseries to remain sustainable. However, although staffi ng bills are rising, around 14 per cent of nurseries are planning to increase parental fees by an average of only 8.5 per cent, which is lower than their main cost increase.

One nursery told the NDNA, ‘Our overall costs have risen significantly and the new minimum wage, although fair, is going to cost us. The pension

6 | NurseryWorld | March 2024

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