I’ve been talking to a lot of mums across in my area recently about free childcare provision, and specifically free provision for three year olds. While Welsh Government has announced up to 30 hours free early years education for pre-schoolers it is still in the pilot phase and there’s very little information out there on when it will be rolled out everywhere. Of course like most parents, that doesn’t help when you have to apply for nursery places so far in advance. Parents need to juggle existing provision and potentially find other to plug the gaps. That can take time.
Many of my friends have already made arrangements for the September intake, opting to keep their child in private nursery for some of the reasons I’m going to touch on later. Their children were born between July and August, so they start this autumn as it’s the first term after their child’s third birthday.
Many of us have children born after September, so we are looking at “Rising 3” places. These are places offered to children who weren’t three in time for the September intake but will be in time for the start of the January or Spring terms.
Clear information on what your child is entitled to varies enormously. There are big differences in the clarity of information on local authority websites so I thought I’d put down everything I’ve found out. Needless to say this only applies to Wales and is a fairly broad brush. This is no substitute for doing your own digging or speaking to you local Family Information Service.
What’s your child entitled to?
In Wales, all children are entitled to 15 hours free early education provision from the term after their third birthday. Many people take this up at a maintained nursery attached to a school. Parents usually hope that this will enable their child to start reception class at the same school, although there is no guarantee of this.
The 15 hours is the maximum you can take and must be spread over five days, with no more than one session per day. In other words, you can claim for a single a 2.5 hour session per day. You can only take one session per day, To get the whole 15 hours you must send your child every day. If you want a place in a school setting, you usually apply through your local authority. Some private day nurseries are also eligible to participate in the scheme, meaning you get a reduction of 2.5 hours off your bill for the session.
After a lot of phone calls, I’ve identified three distinct options for us.
1) state nursery
We can apply for a place but as it’s for two and half hours a day, Small Boy would need to be care for in some other way for the rest of the day. As we don’t have family available for this (as we all work), this means that we’d need to find a childminder who could take our little one for the rest of the day, including pick ups from the school. We’d also need to find childcare provision during school holidays. I can see the benefit for those who don’t work but would like to give their child access to early years education, or for those who have relatives who can pick up the childcare slack and accommodate peculiar session times.
2) private nursery
Some private nurseries are able to offer the 15 hours funding, but it’s important to note it is up to 15 hours. It’s really five sessions of 2.5 hours. All the nurseries I spoke to said they’d still require you to book for the full session, so you’d still need to pay the balance for the rest of the morning/afternoon/day. Not all nurseries register with the authority and given that they only get paid less than £7 per session are you surprised. It doesn’t make any business sense. The nursery should make all the arrangements for the funding though.
3) continue with existing arrangements
Our current day nursery hasn’t registered for the 15 hours funding. For us, we’ve decided to keep Small Boy where he is. The stress of moving him to a different nursery for the sake of £7 a day isn’t worth it. We’re also very impressed with the level of preschool support and education they give, including having three separate teachers come in to support the class, and I’ve not seen the same level of care with other nurseries. It’s weighing up the benefit of moving and for us it doesn’t stack up. You’re not obliged to take your one session a day.
How do you juggle pre-school childcare? Post in the comments and share your experiences with others. I’ve love to hear how other families are managing it.
Are you in a pilot area for the Assembly’s 30 hours of free childcare provision? How is it working for you?