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The fear of their child being labelled as ‘disadvantaged’ is deterring parents from applying for the early years pupil premium, according to nurseries.
The early years pupil premium (EYPP) was introduced back in April 2015 for three and four-year-olds of parents on benefits or if they have been in care. The additional funding is designed to help early years settings enhance the care and education they offer disadvantaged children.
Nurseries can claim up to £301.10 per child a year and they can spend the money on whatever they think will make the most difference.
An investigation by daynurseries.co.uk has found that although nurseries welcome the additional funding, fear of being stigmatised as ‘disadvantaged’ and the process being too ‘long-winded’ means some children are missing out.
In January 2017, 11 per cent of all three-year-olds and 13 per cent of all four-year-olds were receiving the Early Years Pupil Premium funding, according to figures from the Department for Education.
Cheryl Hadland, managing director of Tops Day Nurseries revealed that one of the main reasons the take up is not higher is that “parents do not directly benefit from getting the money and feedback from parents is that they do not want their child to be labelled as a disadvantaged child”.
Process of applying is 'quite time-consuming'
“The whole process of applying for the EYPP is also quite time-consuming especially considering that the funding is not a huge amount,” she added.
David Wright of Paint Pots Nurseries has also found parental distrust of their children being stigmatized to be a barrier.
He said: “The funding is only provided in response to parental application. It is our experience that despite taking the time to explain to them that this will directly benefit their child many parents are reluctant to sign an application for EYPP.
“Whether through perceived stigma, lack of understanding or suspicion of sign-up, we have found it difficult to gain the required signatures.”
He added that “although additional funding to ameliorate the effects of ‘disadvantage’ are welcome”, in some cases the money is being spent on children who do not need it. “Eligibility based on household income does not necessarily equate to developmental delay, thus children qualify for funding who do not need additional support to reach expected levels”.
He also claims that the amount of funding available per child is not of a sufficient level to enable any intervention or additional support to effect significant change.
Ofsted audits the funding to ensure it is being spent meaningfully. This “can be a time-consuming additional task on top of normal planning, assessment and tracking,” says Mr Wright.
It is not a 'life-changing amount of money'
He adds: “We are happy to receive EYPP and happy to ensure it is used for the benefit of the eligible children but if we are honest, it is not ‘life changing’ sums of money – as a recent Early Years Minister memorably stated. It is valid to ask whether the public expenditure is making a difference in closing the gap for disadvantaged children and frankly whether it is worth the hassle from the providers’ point of view?”
The Pre-School Learning Alliance has found this attitude towards the EYPP is felt by many in the sector.
Melanie Pilcher, its policy and standards manager, says: “Many providers have found the process for applying for EYPP so long-winded that often a child will have left their setting before the funding is received.
“As such, it’s understandable that some providers feel that it is simply not worth the time and effort.”
She admits this frustration is understandable, but is concerned that this funding, which is intended to make a difference to those children who need additional support, risks missing its target completely.
'Every little helps'
However some nursery groups have found the whole process to be relatively simple and feel every little helps.
Jennie Johnson, chief executive of Kids Allowed, reveals managers at her nurseries have found “the EYPP process straight forward and the keeping of evidence of how we have spent it not to be onerous”.
She does add that “the payments are often too late to be useful but we have taken the decision to spend the money prior to it arriving confident that it will arrive so that the child get the maximum benefit. Clearly, some settings would not be able to take this risk so I would imagine it would be a problem for some”.
Late payments are a problem
PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) has also heard from nurseries that late payments are a problem.
Susanna Kalitowski, its policy and research manager, reveals that “PACEY has heard numerous reports of delays from local authorities in both confirming a child’s eligibility for EYPP and dispensing EYPP payments, significantly hampering providers’ ability to use EYPP effectively.
“For example, we have heard many cases of providers only receiving the funding three to four months after the child has left the setting and started school.” She added: “Our Building Blocks survey asked providers whether EYPP funding had enabled them to improve outcomes for eligible children. Whilst half said that they had seen some improvement, almost one third (30 per cent) said it was too difficult to judge whether EYPP had had an impact, and 18 per cent said that outcomes had not improved.”
Every local authority seems to have its own way of administering the scheme which means the ease of applications is very much determined by each council.
Cheryl Hadland of Tops Days Nurseries has found the system that Bournemouth uses to be particularly good as eligibility can be easily checked online.
Sarah Steel, managing director of The Old Station Nursery Group, reveals her nurseries in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire have not had any particular problems with the EYPP. “The council were a bit slow at the beginning, but now all we have to do is collect parents’ National Insurance number, which we have added to our registration form, and then we claim for them the same way we do the three-year-old funding. It’s not a huge amount, but it all helps,” she says.
Similarly Zoe Raven, chief executive of Acorn Childcare, has also found that the whole system of applying for the EYPP “isn’t a problem at all – now that Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes ask for National Insurance numbers of parents, they now inform us which children are eligible for it, so we don’t have to do anything! (other than spend the money and justify our choice to Ofsted, and then monitor its effectiveness).”
EYPP would have more impact if funding was increased National Day Nurseries Association would like to see the EYPP amount per child being increased to the amount of the pupil premium which is currently set at £1,320 for school pupils in Reception to Year 6.
Claire Schofield, its director of policy, membership and communications, said: “It is still relatively early days and more work needs to be done nationally to assess the EYPP’s impact and share good practice. We know nurseries are using the premium to meet children’s individual needs but problems with accessing funding, the fluctuations in the amount of funding a setting receives and the low level of funding at £300 per child per year are all potential barriers to achieving maximum impact.
“NDNA believes the EYPP should be raised to the level of the premium for primary school children, as early years investment is where we can make most difference to narrow gaps for children.”
She also called on local authorities to promote EYPP and make “access as smooth as possible”.
For more information on the EYPP go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/early-years-pupil-premium-guide-for-local-authorities