Funding gaps and staff crisis will force nurseries to shut, experts warn

Childcare experts like Jennifer Harper, inset, have seen staff quitting nurseries to work in supermarkets

Childcare experts like Jennifer Harper, inset, have seen staff quitting nurseries to work in supermarkets - Credit: PA/Jennifer Harper

It is set to get even more difficult for parents to get their kids into nursery due to funding cuts and recruitment woes. 

That is the warning from early years experts who say services across the city may begin to go under.

Nursery bosses are calling for a renewed focus on improved funding to combat staff leaving for jobs with less stress and better wages in sectors like hospitality.

They also want a dramatic societal shift in attitude towards the under-pressure sector with one manager saying many see childcare as "babysitting" rather than places of education and support from highly qualified staff.

Lacey Douglass, the early years representative on the county council-run Norfolk Schools Forum, said: "The industry is in crisis. We cannot get staff because government funding is so low."

Lacey Douglas, administration manager at The Heather's Nursery, has highlighed the "dangerous" under

Lacey Douglass, administration manager at The Heather's Nursery in Hellesdon - Credit: Lacey Douglass

She said the hourly base rate the government gives for children aged two to four receiving 15 or 30 hours subsidised childcare per week in Norfolk was just over £4.

The manager said running costs were over £5 per hour per child in the majority of nurseries, childminders and pre-school settings. 

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A government spokeswoman said: “Our priority continues to be to provide safe and high-quality early years provision.

"The Department of Education has spent over £3.5bn in each of the past three years on early education entitlements and we are looking at all options to support parents with the availability, choice and costs of childcare.

“For 2022-23 we have increased our hourly funding rates for local authorities, reflecting cost pressures anticipated at the time of the spending review last year.

"We have also announced a package of up to £180m to provide better training and support for staff working with pre-school children, as part of our education recovery programme.”

But Mrs Douglass, administration manager of The Heathers Nursery in Hellesdon, added: "A qualified childcare practitioner in early years is valued so low at the moment. It is horrific. The level of need for children is high because of Covid.

"Children need more time to settle. There are behavioural issues.

"There is a recruitment crisis. There has to be a shift with how people think about childcare.

"There is a perception that childcare is babysitting but we are educating children so they are ready to learn and be self-sufficient. I'm passionate about early years.

"Most childcare staff are on the living wage and I know people who are struggling financially. There are a lot of demoralised staff.

"If the public knew the responsibility we had and how much we got paid they would wonder why we do it. It should be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

"There are vacancies everywhere. There will be closures."

JCB's Childcare manager, Jennifer Harper, front, who is unhappy with the change in nursery funding a

Jennifer Harper, front, who runs domestic preschool/nursery JCB's Childcare from her Catton Grove home, pictured in 2019 - Credit: Denise Bradley

Jennifer Harper, who runs domestic pre-school/nursery JCB's Childcare from her Catton Grove home, said: "I have known qualified practitioners who have switched to picking food for supermarket home deliveries because they earn more money and have less stress.

"The workload in childcare is intense but we do it because we love children. Everyone says it is a vocation not a career because there is no money."

She added many nurseries were "picking up the slack" in terms of extra support including speech and language therapy because of stretched services.

"Part of Ofsted inspections is reviewing staff wellbeing. The government is aware of poor mental health of early years staff but it is not giving money to make them feel valued," Mrs Harper said.

Once Upon a Time Nursery School at White House Farm, Sprowston. Owners, John and Julie Banbury. Pict

John and Julie Banbury who run Once Upon A Time nursery and pre-school business in Norwich - Credit: Antony Kelly

John Banbury, director of Once Upon A Time which has three day nurseries and one pre-school in Norwich, said: "Recruitment is getting tougher but it isn't affecting us much. 

"If funding was correct we could attract more staff into the profession. Nationwide, nurseries cannot afford to pay staff what they deserve. The national picture is childcare sites are closing by the month. It is tough out there for providers to keep their heads above water."

He believed the government should abolish business rates for nurseries and added each week food and utility bills were increasing for his enterprise.

Council support for childcare

High schools and colleges are set to team up with Norfolk County Council to attract more people into the childcare sector.

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Coun

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

John Fisher, Conservative councillor and cabinet member for children’s services, said: "Our role is to provide support, advice and access to training to all registered childcare providers.

“We help early years providers with recruitment by advertising vacancies and we plan to work with high schools and colleges to help bring more people in to the sector.

“Good quality early years provision is vital for the development of young children."

In the Norwich City Council area and the Norfolk area there are 37 and 332 day nurseries, pre-school playgroups and nurseries within schools, respectively.

Some 1,600 children aged two, three and four in Norwich receive 15 hours funded childcare per week, which includes 500 three and four-year-olds who receive funding for an additional 15 hours per week.

Across Norfolk, that figure is 11,500 children, of which 4,670 receive an extra 15 hours.