Islington nurseries ‘devastated' as government flip-flops on funding commitments

'The governments approach to nurseries has frankly been bewildering. Everybody in the industry is feeling the same.'

Monday, 4th May 2020 — By Calum Fraser

susan nurseries

Susan Bingham outside the Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School in City Road

NURSERIES are being “devastated” as the government flip-flops on funding commitments during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Islington school boss.

Susan Bingham, managing director at the Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School in City Road, Angel, told the Tribune that the government’s “bewildering” decisions have made a messy situation even more difficult.

At first private nurseries were advised that they would be entitled to the government’s furlough scheme which covers 80 per cent of staff’s wages.

But then earlier this month the Department for Education (DfE) released new advice that meant the money would be withheld from some schools.

Normally private nurseries get a proportion of their funding from the government via the council, known as the “free early years education entitlement”, as parents use their 15 hours free care a week.

The schools, which are set up as businesses, then receive fees from parents who pay for more hours of care on top of the free care – which usually amounts to about 10 per cent of the fee.

The DfE’s guidance states that it does not want an “overlap” of funding and it is asking the nursery heads to pay their staff as much as they can using that instead of the furlough scheme.

Ms Bingham, who founded Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School 22 years ago, said: “The governments approach to nurseries has frankly been bewildering. Everybody in the industry is feeling the same. From day one it has been a constantly shifting ball game. Will we get the furlough grant or not? Are we taking in children or not?

“If we do not receive the furlough funding it would be absolutely devastating. I don’t understand the logic of it to be honest. We are caring for the children of key workers. At the end of the day they need us but they may destroy us.”

More than 40 people work for Ms Bingham’s nursery. Now only three members of staff are in the building at any given time as they care for seven children of key worker parents.

Usually there are more than 120 pupils at the school. Parents are now paying 25 per cent of their usual fees with video lessons provided online.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nursery Association, said: “Many nurseries that have remained open to critical workers’ children are doing so at a huge financial loss.

“The Government does not appear to have early years on their agenda, which is appalling at a time when early years providers have stepped up to deliver the care that’s desperately needed for critical workers.

“They are themselves the fourth emergency service: key workers caring for key workers. This is a total disregard for the fantastic work early years providers are doing, risking their own safety every day to keep the country going. The Government does not appear to acknowledge or recognise this.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Our first priority is ensuring that critical workers and vulnerable children are able to access the childcare places they need at this time. Local authorities will continue to receive free early education entitlement funding throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, and a wide range of support is available for early years providers.

“This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which providers can access for employees whose salary is not covered by public funding.”

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