As the cost of a regular nursery place continues to rise, TEY spoke to one setting seeking to make early education available to as many parents as possible…
In these times of economic struggle, rising costs and falling wages, the question of how to make childcare affordable for parents has become an increasingly pressing one. Earlier this year, the Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute’s annual Childcare Costs Survey showed the price of childcare rising at more than six per cent across the board – more than double the rate of inflation. A full-time place for a 0–2-year-old, it reported, now stands at £11,000 per year. At the time of writing, a consultation on the government’s Tax-free Childcare Scheme is nearing its conclusion, but with the scheme somewhat limited in scope, and parents having to wait until autumn 2015 for its introduction, most would agree that other solutions are needed if a difference is going to be made.
For some in the early years sector, it’s a problem that they feel they can help tackle. Two issues ago James Boddey of Busy Bodies Childcare in Ludlow highlighted his setting’s flexible approach to sessions, allowing parents to pay only for the hours they require rather than the traditional morning, afternoon or full day. Others, like Broad Oaks Nurseries in Bolton, are trying something different.
Point your browser in the direction of Broadoaksnursery.co.uk and you’ll find a home page highlighting the provider’s reduced fees, and in particular the promise of a full-time nursery place for 3–5-year-olds for just £60 per week in term time. “We wanted to make an impression, and we wanted to make full-time childcare affordable for parents,” explains Stuart Heathcote, a partner in a business comprising two nurseries – one offering 35 places and the other 12, though plans are in place to expand. “We found that we were getting very few requests for full-time places; the numbers declined over the years to the point where we had only three or four children who were in all week. So we thought, let’s try to get these children in full time by offering a cheaper price.”
With demand for the government-funded 15 hours intact, the decision was made to significantly reduce fees for full-time bookings. The quoted £60 figure is supplemented by the government’s funding for three- and four-year- olds, representing a combined fee of £120 per full-time week, a £50 reduction on the previous figure of £170 per full-time week.
The primary motivation behind the move, Stuart explains, is not the financial betterment of the nursery – at least not in the short term. “In terms of our business, getting more children in won’t mean a great difference for us financially,” he explains. “We might benefit a little bit, but as we will need more staff in at certain times, we will probably find that our situation is about the same. As we expand, however, and we’re able to get more children in, it might benefit us more – that’s the hope anyway.”
In the here and now what Stuart points to instead is a desire to support parents struggling to find work, and children whose opportunities to access early education may well be limited as a result. “Our thinking is that we can give a lot more parents the opportunity to afford full-time childcare, and therefore hopefully give them a better lifestyle – the chance to have a job, a career. That’s the main motivation behind it really,” he says. “At the same time, the more time the children spend with us, the more we can do with them. It will mean a far more consistent OAP routine for key-workers and other members of staff, meaning they can gain a better picture of each child’s development and pick up on any problems that may occur far sooner.”
It’s still early days for Broad Oaks’ plan; time will tell what difference the incentive they’re offering parents will have, though early feedback has been positive. But Stuart views this approach as an opportunity, not a risk: “At the end of the day, we can still profit – as a business model this still works,” he says. “Even if it doesn’t have the effect we’re hoping for, we’ve got nothing to lose – we’re struggling to get these children in anyway. But hopefully, in the long term it will advantage us and advantage parents, and the children too.”
This article was first published in 2013. Broad Oaks’ settings are based in Bolton in Greater Manchester. Visit Broadoaksnursery.co.uk