“I’ve been thinking about parents in my decision making” - Pressures put on nurseries during the coronavirus lockdown

Nurseries have had to make some tough decision during the coronavirus lockdown

Nurseries have had to make some tough decision during the coronavirus lockdown - Credit: Carole LR / Pixabay

Very few are open during the coronavirus lockdown to care for children of key workers. So what happens about fees during this difficult time?

Nurseries have had to decide whether to charge families during the coronavirus lockdown

Nurseries have had to decide whether to charge families during the coronavirus lockdown - Credit: Design_Miss_C / Pixabay

Like so many other service providers during this pandemic, nursery bosses have had to make very tough decisions on very little guidance.

And they’ve had to communicate decisions to families, quickly.

Within hours, they’ve had to answer big questions like: Will we remain open for key workers? If we do, how should we manage staff to protect everyone? What happens if a colleague goes into self-isolation?

One of the most difficult questions has been: Should we bill parents who are not key workers so won’t be using the service?

We looked into this after a number of parents contacted us, upset their nurseries were still planning on charging for a service they haven’t been able to access.

So we spoke to nurseries in the area to ask how they were handling fees during the coronavirus lockdown.

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Each approach varied considerably, and many had changed their position as the crisis unfolded. While some are not charging parents who are not using the service, others want up to 50 per cent to ensure the child’s place is retained.

Another settled on a credit system. So if a child is unable to attend a session during the lockdown, parents will be credited for it when the Government restrictions are lifted.

Hayley Carver runs The Willows Day Nursery in March and Chatteris, one of few nurseries open for key workers and the numbers attending are low.

She said: “Apparently, we had someone from Ely call and ask if we were accepting children of key workers. We were the closest nursery in the area.”

The Willows charged all parents for March as the crisis was unforeseen, and only key workers will be billed for sessions they need in April as everyone else is in lockdown.

Hayley said: “It’s really hard to know what to do as it’s a horrible situation for everyone.

“But we’ve had parents lose jobs in the coronavirus crisis before furloughing became an option.

“They won’t get the 80 per cent salary the Government is offering - and I’ve really been thinking about them in my decision making.”

She describes the nursery as ‘an extended family’ and since the lockdown they set up a Facebook group to keep in touch and offer online teaching materials and activities.

“We will get through this together however long it lasts,” Hayley added.

Many nurseries we spoke to mentioned the Government guidance changed regularly, particularly leading up to the lockdown. This resulted in varied communication to parents.

Another unrelated nursery called The Willows in Downham Market changed its position on fees as the coronavirus pandemic progressed. It’s part of Alpha Nurseries, a group of 30 nurseries and out of school clubs.

David Finch, Managing Director, explained it has been difficult to keep up with the guidance but has now settled on charging 50 per cent fees in April and May to parents who are not key workers.

He says this allows them to cover costs and re-open as normal when restrictions are lifted.

This generally means that for a child usually in their care all day, every day of the working week, parents will be charged around £50 for the week.

Anyone who decides not to pay the amended fees must give their four week notice.

In a recent letter to parents, he said: “This has been one of the most difficult decisions we have had to make as a company, it is already predicted that 20 per cent of nurseries will never reopen but will fold during this time...“

On top of the stress, he says their insurer is refusing to pay up during the crisis, and he had to secure a £250,000 COVID-19 bank loan to see them through. If he does win the battle with his insurer, he said the payout will be used as a refund to loyal parents.

During the crisis, the Government says it will continue to pay nurseries for free early years entitlement places even if they closed or children were unable to attend.

Other support includes the business rates holiday and access to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where the Government will contribute 80 per cent of each worker’s wage for employees who are not working but kept on payroll.

The National Day Nurseries Association says fees during the pandemic largely depend on the agreement between the nurseries and their parents.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, its Chief Executive, said: “They [nurseries] need to be able to pay their staff to maintain continuity when this settles down.

“Recruitment is already a major issue in the sector and nurseries do not want to lose their committed, trained staff. The government financial support is welcome but it’s only part of their income.”

She added: “As nobody knows how long this very challenging situation will continue for, we know that many nurseries are working with parents to reach an acceptable agreement.

“Childcare providers need to ensure they have enough income to keep the business running and be able to reopen with a full complement of staff once all parents can go back to work.”