The conflict between delivering high quality services at an increasingly low cost is causing anxiety among childcare providers, according to the chair of the Montessori Schools Association.
Montessori schools have a high proportion of staff trained at level 3 and 4. Image: Montessori
Earlier this year, reports from the National Audit Office and the public accounts select committee criticised the fact that there is a lack of detail on the use of government funding for free childcare and the difference that it is making to children and families.
Martin Bradley told CYP Now that since the reports, there has been a spotlight on comparing the fees charged by different providers - which is putting settings under pressure to further reduce their costs.
He argued that while it was right that both the government and local authorities had robust accounting procedures, settings in the private and voluntary sector are worried about the sustainability of their businesses and their ability to take part in the free entitlement to childcare if they are forced to reduce fees.
“The Department for Education inevitably has to account for public money,” he said. “But one of the problems is that there is a conflict between two government polices. They want the free places to cost a certain amount, but they want more highly trained staff.
“More highly trained staff command higher salaries, which is where Montessori is particularly affected because we have a higher proportion of staff qualified to level 3 and level 4. The level of funding for free places just simply doesn’t match the outgoings.
“There is already evidence that people are having grave doubts about joining in with the two-year-old offer.”
Bradley said one of the problems was a lack of information about average costs for providing childcare.
“We have looked at this in some detail with Montessori schools and the problem is that it is so varied. Some people own the property and others rent, some have subsidised rents, others include the cost of outdoor facilities.
“It is so variable that you can’t come up with a clear unit cost. Even within the state sector there are variations, for example a nursery might have a separate head teacher, whereas a school may just have one nursery class without a separate head and that would obviously cost less.
“The government’s argument that we need to come up with clear costings on the basis of our current fees isn’t very helpful.”