Hayley Room from Dandelion Education Ltd outlines how the company has evolved and diversified with the aim of attracting new business…
Early Year settings are facing hard times. The time for action is now if we are to survive severe underfunding and staff shortages.
As we know, the government’s proposal of amending adult-to-child ratios is an attempt to manage a crisis that has been looming for many years.
In fact, the Early Years Alliance (EYA) announced its discovery that, as far back as 2015, government ministers knew that the funding shortfall was almost £3 per hour for three to four-year-olds – a shortfall of over 60%.
In addition to this, in March 2022 the EYA produced an analysis of SEND. This revealed that 92% of settings fund additional support for children with SEND out of their own pockets.
Settings are expected to bear more responsibility and accountability than ever before, and this situation shows little sign of abating.
The underfunding has forced the sector into a recruitment and retention crisis, where an 18-year-old barista holds a larger pay packet than an Early Years practitioner with several years’ training.
Very few settings can pay staff a teacher’s wage, though this is what they deserve. So who can blame them for heading to the coffee machine?
Here at Dandelion, things are further complicated by our ratios, which are 1:2 for two-year-olds and 1:6 for children aged three to four. This places a further financial burden on our sustainability. Fortunately, however, as an entirely outdoor setting, we’ve avoided the energy rises that many others face.
Like many settings, our existence hangs in the balance. We’ve been forced to make extra charges in an attempt to cover the funding shortfall, to maintain ratios and maintain quality.
We knew from the outset of Dandelion that the funding formula and our ratios would threaten our sustainability. Therefore, we embraced several options as part of our ethos. Hopefully, these may help you now at this time of crisis.
As qualified teachers we extended our offer and set out to encourage families to stay with us for their Reception year. Early Years funding remains with the child until the term after they are five, so hang on to them if you can!
Arrange a meeting with families before they begin to make school choices and explain why and how an extra year of play-based, child-learning would benefit their child. Outline clearly to parents why you might be a better option for their child.
We also encourage flexi-education, whereby children enter Reception part-time and attend Dandelion part-time. This is sadly only available to families who can pay (as the school receives all the child’s funding). However, it will help your setting to remain sustainable.
We have delivered consultancy to several settings to support them as they begin to offer this.
As skilled professionals, Early Years practitioners (yes, you!) have a lot to offer. We offer training, consultancy and professional visits to other settings, and family tutorials, such as our Promoting Positive Behaviour Bundle.
As skilled, trained professionals we are well placed to offer support and guidance to families and other settings. Look at your staff qualifications and think about what you can offer that others need.
You have years of experience and training – so share it and earn from it!
We also make smart use of our space and run several ‘aspects’ of Dandelion from one location. You may not have Dandelion’s four-acre wood, but do you have space that could be attracting new business?
A group meeting/exercise room; a weekend party space; a space for after-school activities? Take time to think about how you can adapt your space for other uses.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, we are expanding. We have opened an alternative provision and are soon opening a third Dandelion Nursery.
We have taken this path because minute profits from one setting threaten sustainability, but minute profits from two or more (without increasing any ‘backroom’ staff) support sustainability.
Can you expand your offer in another way too? Every penny counts!
Gloomy as it sounds, it is time to do all we can to survive this period. It’s time to consider how we can evolve, and how we can diversify.
We must do all we can to ensure our children don’t just survive, but we need to stay standing to enable our children to thrive.
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