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Education Secretary praises “incredible nursery staff” during a whistle-stop tour of The Montessori People

In February 2024, the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan MP, visited the nursery to see how we are preparing for the roll out of April’s government funding for working parents of two-year olds.

Stockton Council suggested that the Education Secretary visit our nursery as a shining example of independent childcare provision in the town.

Mrs Keegan was given a tour of the facilities by nursery owner, Michelle Tudor, Operations Manager, Cheryl Lambert, and Deputy Manager, Jessica Forrest. The team introduced her to the leaders in each age-related room: Babies, Toddlers, Tweenies and Pre-School. She also met Chef Lynda who provides home-cooked meals for more than 60 children every day.

The Education Secretary learned how government funding had helped one parent’s wife return to work as a teacher. The Minister also spoke to members of staff about their own motivations and routes into the early years sector and learned that some staff had joined as apprentices while others studied at college or university to gain their early years qualifications. As ever, the children were the stars of the show, proudly demonstrating their keen problem-solving skills that will ensure they are ‘school-ready’ when the time comes for them to move onto primary school.

Positive feedback from the Education Secretary

Following the visit, we received some very positive feedback. The Secretary of State said: “It was fantastic to hear from parents and the incredible nursery staff just how excited everyone is about this truly transformative offer.”

So what do the planned changes to education funding mean for working parents?

The changes, which were announced in the Chancellor’s 2023 Spring Budget include:

Currently, working parents (or carers) of children aged three to four in England are entitled to 30 hours free childcare a week with an approved childcare provider (so granny or lovely Uncle Bill don’t count!)

From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will also be able to access 15 hours of free childcare.

From September 2025, working parents of children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week.

Parents can apply via Childcare Choices.

Our take on recent early years changes

While extra funding for early years is always welcome in principle, we believe the devil is very much in the detail. Only time will tell, but our current concerns include:

  • Funding for working parents of two-year-olds: we believe the extra funding may lead to some nurseries cutting corners, and some even closing altogether, putting pressure on the rest of the sector. Why? It’s because each local authority sets its funding rates in line with the money awarded to it by the government. In some circumstances, these funding rates are less than the nursery provider charges parents to take care of their children, leaving a shortfall. This shortfall will inevitably drive nursery costs up, meaning fees are more expensive for parents. Some nurseries may respond by limiting the number of new funded places they offer. For others, it may no longer be viable for them to continue operating. If that happens, there simply won’t be enough nursery places to meet demand.
  • ‘Golden hello’: the government recently announced its latest recruitment campaign to encourage more people to join the early years sector. This includes an introductory offer of a £1,000 for each new recruit. There’s no doubt that the sector needs more workers to be able to meet the demand for more childcare places from parents, but the key issue here is quality. Will a ‘golden hello’ attract the right people with the right ethos? Wouldn’t it be better to improve pay and progression across the early years sector instead?
  • Staff to child ratios: since September 2023, registered childcare providers have had the option to reduce childcare ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-old children. We’ve taken the decision not to dilute our ratios. They will remain as they are now: one staff member looking after four two-year-olds. Why? To ensure your children have the safest and happiest experience in our care.

Our childcare priorities

We’re concentrating our efforts on gaining the sought-after Montessori Accreditation. Since January 2024, all members of staff are undergoing training with a Montessori mentor. This includes practical and theoretical training such as learning about the importance of ‘sensorial’ activities which put children in touch with their five senses and help them think cognitively by ‘having a go’ themselves.

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