Nursery manager James Boddey puts his case for charging by the hour as the best approach to making childcare affordable for all (Originally Published in Teach Early Years. 2013)
I am the manager of Busy Bodies Childcare Centre in lovely Ludlow in Shropshire. I have been keeping up to date with all the discussions regarding changes to early years through More Great Childcare and the proposed changes the Government wants to make.
Understandably the main issue that has caused uproar is the issue of ratios. But the problem I have is that the majority of people have come out against it while not coming up with any alternative suggestions.
It is obvious to me that childcare needs to be more affordable but changing ratios is no way to do this. Changing the ratios will have a negative effect on the care and education of young children. At my setting we have more staff than we should and this enables us to meet individual children’s needs, go on outings and ensure all children are safe, secure and well cared for.
Back to the main point of this. I believe it is no good to just say that something will not work. As early years professionals we should be providing alternatives that we think could work to make childcare more affordable for families.
WHY WE ARE SUCCESSFUL
My idea is to make early years provisions more flexible. At my setting we offer parents total flexibility with when they want their children to attend. We are open 7.30am until 5.30pm Monday to Friday and charge £3.50 an hour. The families can use the setting as much or as little as they like. Instead of a lot of settings nearby who only offer ‘sessions’ where you have to pay for a morning or an afternoon, we only offer hourly sessions. This makes us a lot more affordable as parents and carers only use us when they need us.
If they work from 10am until 2pm on Tuesday, and 3pm until 5pm on Wednesday, for example, they are only paying for the hours they actually use, which in my opinion is how early years settings should operate.
Flexible childcare is more affordable, supports families as it allows us to fit around their individual lives and is one of the reasons, I believe, that we are so successful as a nursery.
I understand why settings do ‘sessions’ as it’s a lot easier and lets them know in advance that everyone will be arriving at the same time and going at the same time. In our system children and families are arriving throughout the day. This means planned activities are made available all days, key workers individual planning has to be flexible and dynamic, and staff have to be knowledgeable, flexible and creative.
With such a big push for planning for individual children, working closely with each family and celebrating unique and special differences, our way of offering hourly sessions is an extension of this philosophy. This way of doing things will lead to the setting being used by families who cannot afford to do a full morning which is great for children and parents. They may get four hours a week in the childcare setting which is better than no hours at all.
I think we need to be ensuring that we can be used by every family in the area and by offering hourly sessions we can do this. This can lead to parents/carers being able to go to college courses, being free go to doctors and dentists etc and obviously working, socializing and doing jobs that they could not do while caring for their child.
It is up to each individual setting how they run their nursery, obviously, but I am just putting forward our system as a model for settings to consider. It enables us to offer affordable childcare which is effective for each individual family. Our ratios remain high, the education and care we offer is still of the highest standard and the reputation we have in the local area is outstanding. To sum up, I believe early years providers can be doing more to ensure they are effective for each individual family. This is done by keeping the ratios high, maintaining high standards of care, being flexible and affordable. All these things are achieved by a simple change. Instead of charging for sessions and forcing families to fit with your structure, charge for hourly sessions, ensure families can use the setting when they need to. This is a best system for the children, the families, the community us as a setting. I ask managers, owners and early years professionals to consider this method and see the improved results for themselves.