An open letter to all parents and carers with young children

This letter is written to people who care about and understand the importance of high quality early years Childcare and Education. The page has been written, supported and paid for by over 300 caring providers from nurseries, childminders and pre-schools, who currently support and develop over 80,000 children every day.

So far in 2019, according to Ofsted’s own figures, 500 childcare settings have closed each month, leaving thousands of children and their parents without appropriate or adequate facilities and it is devastating that the settings struggling the most are in the most deprived areas. It is already too late for many of these.

We are not however, asking for your sympathy. Rather, we are calling for clarity and honesty from the Government and for your increased awareness and support.

While we of course understand the appeal to families of “free” childcare offers, the overly complicated legislation and insufficient funding rates are crippling providers, as we are forced to choose between swallowing losses or cross-subsiding in attempts to remain viable.

The reality is that the high quality childcare every child deserves, costs more to deliver than the funding provided by government.

The hourly funding rates given to providers for ‘free’ childcare were set in 2015 and have been frozen since then. Outside London, the funding rate can be less than £4 per hour. We asked for the calculation of how this was set.

The Department for Education refused and even appealed a decision by the Information Commissioners Office that they must reveal how they calculated the funding rates. You can draw your own conclusions as to why they prefer to hide this.

What we are calling for, is honesty and clarity for families about what is actually ‘free’. The Government shout about ‘free’ childcare, but tell us that funding ‘is not intended’ to pay for meals, consumables or extra activities and that parents ‘can expect to pay’ for these. At the point of delivery for parents, it is often therefore not actually free at all.

Alongside the assumption of low pay for staff, the Government do not recognise that the experiences we provide along with, in many cases, nutritious meals and necessary consumables, are essential ingredients in delivering a great experience for your children. Our work is linked to brain development, to proper nutrition, to proper exercise, to great opportunities led by capable and enthusiastic professionals.

We are passionate about attracting, training and paying our professional staff in a way that provides the best for our children. The funding rate supresses wages in our sector, making retention difficult.

We have no problem at all with any Government wanting to help with the cost of childcare. What we are asking for, is the recognition and acceptance that the quality we want and you need us to provide, has a cost attached to it. Our dedicated staff members are worth and have trained to be worth, more than the national living wage. We want to pay them at a level that recognises they are highly skilled professionals caring for and educating our youngest children. The importance of this cannot be overestimated.

Expanding the availability of ‘free’ childcare may make for vote grabbing headlines, but extending a failing system in a misleading attempt to win over the electorate, will not end well for anyone.

Children are our focus and you as parents are our biggest allies. So please consider all of this when reading those manifesto pledges because quite simply, Government funded childcare is not ‘free’.

Please support us in demanding services that meet the needs of your children and are funded appropriately – thank you.

The letter can be viewed on page 40 of today’s Times.

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