Pre-schools around Bury St Edmunds have written to their MP saying changes in funding will make the Government’s 30 hours’ free childcare plan ‘unsustainable’.
The pre-schools say the Department for Education used out of date data to set funding but also say Suffolk County Council is paying less than surrounding counties at £3.87 an hour per child compared to Norfolk’s £4.04 and a £4.88 national average. They also lose block supplements and extra fees for better qualified staff.
Jenny Snape, lead practitioner at Chedburgh’s Little Teapots, fears losing £5,000 a year and said in her letter to MP Jo Churchill: “Our forecast until the end of this calendar year is minus £13,900.73. We have a small reserve in our bank account, but unfortunately not enough.”
Plum Tree Pre-School, in Barrow, warns of higher fees for paid-for hours but adds: “We are also seriously considering withdrawing from the 30 hours offer. Our reserves are very low and we are facing the real possibility of closure.”
Cygnets charity pre-school, in Great Whelnetham, faces a fees cut from £4.24 to £3.87 and manager Charlotte Coe estimates losing £5,000 this year. She wrote: “Whilst we appreciate that Suffolk County Council is suffering a substantial loss of funding, the funds available could perhaps be better allocated allowing providers a better chance of remaining sustainable.”
She says there is no incentive for pre-school staff to obtain the teacher-status qualification she has.
Parents expect quality for the most precious little people in their lives.Jo Chandler, Green Wellie Day Nursery
At All Saints Pre-school, in Bury, manager Gail May added: “Some settings who don’t have teacher status staff have actually seen what they’re being paid go up.”
Most of those writing have had high Ofsted ratings.
All Saints’ letter says: “We were recently awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted. Two months later, we have been informed by Suffolk County Council that our funding is to be drastically reduced and a yearly block allowance of £3,300 is to be completely removed”.
‘Outstanding’ Green Wellie Day Nursery, in Barrow, will now lose a £1,100 block payment on top of the fees cut.
Managing director Jo Chandler wrote: “[Parents] expect quality for the most precious little people in their lives. Yet the Government see fit to reduce providers’ income in a business that is extremely difficult to make even a small profit.”
Lisa Pratt, director of Street Farm Day Nursery, Elmswell, wrote: “With business rates rising, the national living wage and minimum wage rising along with the introduction of pensions, I am becoming increasingly worried about the sustainability of the business and the future of the early years sector.”
Suffolk County Council has also written to MPs because it is one of only 37 local authorities in the UK to get a cut in early years funding.
Gordon Jones, Suffolk’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “We are disappointed that Suffolk County Council is one of only 25 per cent of authorities in the country to see a reduction in funding. The reform will reduce funding to providers by 7 per cent over two years.
“Suffolk County Council considered its options through consultation with early years providers and the schools forum and has taken the decision to offer the highest hourly base rate possible of £3.87 plus a supplement for deprivation of £210, to ensure that all providers benefit from a higher base rate.
“In addition to this base rate, we propose to pay an Inclusion Fund of 4p per hour per eligible child. ”
A county spokeswoman said the 4p inclusion fund was only paid for children with special educational needs.
Cllr Jones said: “This kind of reduction will inevitably lead to some providers closing or their quality reducing, putting the early education of children in the county at risk, as well as our ability to deliver the 30 hour offer for working families. We do not feel that the reform has addressed the significant inequality of funding across the country.
“I have written to all Suffolk MPs to address my concerns on this and I will continue to lobby for fairer funding for children in Suffolk.”
Bury MP Jo Churchill says she has raised the unfairness of pre-school funding with the education secretary.
Praising the standard of local pre-schools she said: “I have serious concerns regarding the delivery of early years provision, particularly in light of the roll out of 30 hours’ free childcare and the introduction of the National Living Wage amongst other issues.
“The inadvertent consequences of these measures result in greater pressures and funding requirements on providers, who already operate a heavily regulated sector.
“Measures, including those introduced as part of the new National Funding Formula, have meant that whilst funding is intended to be fairer, the allocation of funds is, in fact, impacting rural areas, especially Suffolk, negatively.
“These concerns I have put to the secretary of state for education, Justine Greening, and her colleagues responsible for the allocation of school funding.
“I have been insistent that funding is neither fair nor does it support the delivery of the early years education agenda.
“If we are to guarantee qualified staff look after our children, assist with their school readiness and ensure they have the best start in life, funding needs to be fairer. I will be driving this evidence forward, alongside the feedback I receive from providers in my constituency.”