Cheshire East Council is at the leading edge of implementing a new funding system for free early years provision which aims to better meet the local needs of children and families.
The authority is among 56 nationwide selected as ‘pathfinders’ for the system which will reward childcare providers offering a high quality, flexible service and encourage others to raise standards.
All three and four-year-olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free childcare a week which will increase to 15 hours from September.
Under the existing system, schools with nursery classes are paid according to a different formula than private, voluntary and independent (PVI) childcare providers.
From April the Council will adopt the Single Funding Formula which will improve fairness and transparency in the way funding is allocated.
Providers receive a base rate and are eligible for ‘top ups’ if they meet one or more of a set of criteria which are designed to improve provision.
As well as financial incentives for higher quality and flexibility, extra payments are available for providers in deprived areas and those which serve rural communities.
In Cheshire East there are 25 schools with nursery provision and 179 PVI providers.
Councillor Paul Findlow, Cabinet member with responsibility for children and families, said: “There are currently 5,700 three and four-year-olds accessing their free entitlement to early education in Cheshire East.
“It is our responsibility to ensure there is high quality provision available for every child who requires a free early years place.
“This new system aims to ensure all children get the best possible start in life, regardless of background or income, by providing families with easy access to high quality early learning and childcare that is flexible to their needs.
“We have worked closely with providers to develop a system that is fair to all and we are confident it will create a significantly improved early years service for children and families.”
Under the new system, which is to be rolled out across the rest of the UK in April 2011, each local authority is responsible for tailoring the formula to meet local needs.
In order to develop the proposals in Cheshire East, the Council consulted widely with stakeholders including schools with nursery provision, PVI providers, childminders and unions.
PVI providers are currently paid a set rate for each child while schools with nursery classes are paid according to a formula that funds partly on the number of places available and partly on occupancy.
Anyone requiring further information about the Single Funding Formula can contact the Council’s Family Information Service on 0800 408 2013.