Parents More Sympathetic To Nurseries' Funding Predicament Than Government Over 30 Hours

14/08/2017 13:32 BST | Updated 14/08/2017 13:32 BST

So the full roll-out of 30 hours' free childcare is just around the corner in England.

From September, three and four-year-olds of working parents across England will be entitled to a further 15 hours on top of the current universal 15 'free' hours.

Have you secured a place for your child? And have you managed to navigate the Government's problematic online system to receive an eligibility code for that child?

If so, all well and good.

The chances are, your nursery might be asking you to pay extra charges for lunch or special sessions such as language lessons or trips out.

The purpose of this, as you no-doubt know, is to allow your nursery to offer 30 hours, given that, in the majority of local areas, Government funding falls short of the real cost of delivering high-quality places.

Without those extra few pounds, many childcare providers would put themselves at serious financial risk by trying to deliver 30 hours.

A nursery that's about to go under is no good to anyone - families, the economy or the loyal staff who work there.

Nursery managers all over the country have been spending the summer carefully explaining the funding problems to their customers and, as a result, families are generally very happy and willing to pay extra charges.

As one of our members, Jo Morris, of Playsteps Nursery in Swindon, puts it: "Parents have been very supportive that it's not 'free', they have all viewed this as a reduction of fees rather than a 'free' place.

"They are our biggest allies in this and are very surprised when they are told that funding does not cover our full fee.

"Additional services will be the thing that makes the policy work. All of our parents have agreed to pay for them, without them we would not be offering 30 hours."

Sympathetic reception from families, as Jo recounts, shows just how understanding they are when presented with all the facts of the situation - far more understanding than the Government has been.

NDNA has been lobbying hard for more funding - of course - but also for nurseries to be able to make mandatory charges as a condition of a place. At the moment these charges can also be voluntary.

The Department for Education is keen for 30 hours to be seen as 'free' and not just subsidised but I think that the decision makers are underestimating parents' willingness to chip in to receive a high-quality place with a childcare provider of their choice.

A new piece of research we've just done at NDNA, in partnership with ITN, has discovered that the vast majority of nurseries offering 30 hours can only do so if they make extra charges to parents.

Of the 85% of nurseries who plan to offer 30 hours places, 60% will charge parents for extras such as meals and activities.

And more than half of these nurseries will be restricting the number of places on offer, some to as few as one or two children.

This echoes what we already knew from our earlier survey this year which showed that one in five nurseries were not planning to offer 30 hours because they just could not afford to do it.

So even with extra charges, there is a real danger that there simply won't be enough places to meet demand - and thousands of parents will end up disappointed.

Let's see what happens, as we continue to fight for a better deal for our families and nurseries.