Friday, 4 May 2018

Partnership Nurseries - Additional Hours 2020

Fife has 32 partnership nurseries - these are private nurseries, that as their name suggests, are in partnership with the Council.

Increased hours provision by 2020 - a policy decision of the SNP Government in Holyrood has to be enacted by local authorities. There will be an almost doubling of funded hours - from 600 to 1,140 for all 3 & 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. Unfortunately, as with many policy initiatives these are very top-down focussed. Local authorities are in the position whereby - decisions are made at Holyrood to be rolled out nationally and Councils have to enact the policy - often with little time, detail or, what appears to be, sufficient funding. 

Yesterday at the full Council meeting I asked the question of the SNP-Labour Administration:

"There are 32 partnership nurseries in Fife, what percentage of the increased hours provision does the Administration envisage will be provided by these nurseries?"

The response I was given was - 16%. Given that there is expected to be around 8,800 children who will be in recipient of the funded entitlement (Education & Children's Services Committee - August 2017) - the role of partnership nurseries is going to be of significance in providing this service. 

Figures provided by the Council in response to a request I made for further detail are as below:

3-4 year olds:
Fife Council - 79%
Playgroups/Private Nurseries - 16%
Childminders - 5%

2 year olds:
Fife Council - 78%
Childminders - 21%

Looking at the numbers it is clear that partnership nurseries are very much part of the Council's strategic planning for the additional hours. This led me to my supplementary question:

"By 2020 with the new service model this will include, partnership nurseries to "include paying the Living Wage". Those partnership providers I have spoken to have stated that their pay rates are in the most part in line with the Minimum Wage - which for over 25s is £7.83 as opposed to £8.75 for the Living Wage.

Given that under a Freedom Of Information request I made, it seems that of 202 place offered on the HNC Childhood Practice just over 60% of places have been filled - likely leading to an increased demand put on partnership providers to cover the additional hours. The question is - Will it be Fife Council or the Scottish Government who will make up this shortfall in wages to essential partnership providers?

If you note the second part of supplementary question - the Freedom of Information (FOI) request - this is where it become interesting. Since the Education & Children's Services Committee was presented with the information on the move towards a 1,140 hrs early years model the question I have asked, one more than one occasion, is - are we going to be able to deliver this? Increased accommodation and staff will be absolutely essential to its success.

Workforce planning and development is key to this. The Council notes:

The Scottish Government have completed some preparatory work regarding providing a competent workforce for 2020. It is estimated that in Fife Council we would need a further 400-500 Early Years Officers to deliver the additional capacity required. We expect all EYO staff to be qualified to HNC or SVQIII level in an appropriate qualification. There is currently a major shortage of suitably qualified staff to fulfil our additional requirements. 

An estimated 400-500 Early Years Officers (EYO) will be required to deliver this additional capacity. That is a huge increase in the workforce and in a very short period of time. I decided to submit a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to Fife College to discover how their workforce planning on the HNC Childhood Practice - which will lead to becoming an EYO. The table below illustrates where the College is now in the first round:

Campus
Description
Original Target 
Enrolment
 
Current
St Brycedale
Grp A
24
19
17
St Brycedale
Grp B
24
18
12
Halbeath
(Part-time/Evening)
18
10
10
Halbeath
Grp A
24
24
17
Halbeath
Grp B
24
24
20
Halbeath
Grp C
24
24
15
Levenmouth
Grp A
20
13
12
Stenton
Grp A
22
13
10
Stenton
Grp B
22
13
10
Total
202
158
123
 

The original target was 202 places - enrolment was 158 and the current number as of 1/5/18 is 123. Meaning that just over 60% of places have been filled. Now lets take that in conjunction with additional comment by the Council:
  1. Partnership agreements with other Early Learning and Childcare settings such as private nurseries, playgroups and childminders are an essential element to allow delivery of our model 
"An essential element" - in short, for the increased hours to have any hope of functioning as required partnership providers have to be on board. Leading back to my question - "Will it be Fife Council or the Scottish Government who will make up this shortfall in wages to essential partnership providers?" 

If partnership providers are essential to success of the policy they must pay the Living Wage and given the expected HNC role being much lower in year 1 than expected - is there a guarantee on who will pay this? Needless to say I was provided with a very opaque answer that insisted the funding will be available - Fife Council though the Scottish Government and this is built in as per agreements with COSLA. That though, is a simplification. 

Audit Scotland stated that Councils expect spend on the policy to have hit £1 billion by 2021-22 but the indicative Scottish Government figure is £840 million - a significant shortfall on local authorities who already have been baring the brunt of government cuts brought about by the SNP. The Scottish Government also claims to be on track with workforce planning - given the early figures in Fife I am very skeptical of this prediction. 

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) conducted a survey which found that 97% of the 73 surveyed have not as yet adopted the Living Wage of £8.75 - Fife Council remember, insists that part of any arrangement is payment of the Living Wage. Those surveyed stated that to adopt the Living Wage would be dependent on the Scottish Government "substantially increased funding". Until that is forthcoming and guaranteed partnership providers in Fife, and around the country, are going to have an expectation to provide some of the funded entitlement with what does not look like an absolute guarantee that the Scottish Government is going to pay up the required amount. Any shortfall cannot be burdened on already stretched local authorities. 

Additional funding and realistic workforce planning are key to the success of this policy. What is unfortunate here in Fife is that due to this SNP-Labour coalition, a vocal Labour Party is non existent. It seems to be unable to question and scrutinise this SNP Government initiative (unlike the party at Holyrood which has done quite the opposite). Opposition politicians will though continue to do so.

One final point to note is that under the FOI a telling comment read: "Fife College did receive additional funding for this course, but unfortunately was unable to recruit to these places". Surprisingly (unsurprisingly?) the Administration in Fife chose to sidestep the point I made that college places may well be there but they need to be filled - as the data shows, this is not the case.











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