Flexible Childcare; Why should you? Who benefits? How can you? What about quality and continuity?
Whenever we tell people our organisation delivers a fully flexible, book by the hour and pay as you go model of early learning and childcare we are met with questions. Some obvious, some less obvious but equally pertinent, all valid and generally all leading to even more questions.
Most people are genuinely interested, a significant number tell us their service users want them to be more flexible, most tell us they just can’t understand how it can work. So here goes, let’s try to answer your flexibility questions.
Flexibility done our way means fully flexible, every space in our Dundee service is available to book by the hour, we request one weeks’ notice and parents can change their bookings week by week. We charge no deposit, no upfront fees and no retainers or holiday fees. We invoice weekly, accept all the usual payment methods and provide some places under a local authority contract for social services.
Our model is a pilot project and as such has been, partially, grant funded however the established model is sustainable within our business plan.
As a broader, sustainable and scalable model, we would expect that settings would not go down a 100% flexible route but instead would offer a blended model of regular and flexible sessions. Using an established commercial childcare provider as an example we would suggest starting with a small number of places, perhaps utilising places from any unsold capacity, and allocating 10% of places to be sold on a flexible model. The hourly rate of the flexible spaces would be set slightly higher than the cost of an hour within a set session.
Example: If your day rate is £50 and your day lasts 10 hours, the cost of an hour within that day is £5. In this scenario you would sell single hours at an increased rate, possibly £5.50 per hour. Yes, that is a 10% increase but its just an example and remember if a parent only needs 2 or 3 hours it is still much more cost effective for them.
Which leads us into those “why should you?” and “who benefits?” questions…and the answer is everyone.
Existing parents/carers using your service may book some extra hours, you may find that families who previously couldn’t use your setting as the set sessions/days were cost prohibitive for their needs and circumstances start to make bookings. Those families now have access to a service they can purchase in a way they can afford, they’ve not got the guarantee you will always have the place available when they need it, but you’ve certainly created a new option for them.
You sell some extra hours and increase your revenue and you bring new customers into your setting who may after initially using only sessional hours start to use more sessions, more regularly.
Your staff benefit as you may be in a position to offer extra hours of work for those that are interested. Offering flexible booking to parents may also mean you create more jobs as you recruit sessional staff so you can flex staffing to reflect varying occupancy. We know there’s a workforce capacity issue in our sector at the moment, but we’ve found offering this sessional work has been a good way to bring returners back into the childcare workforce.
Managing staffing to match the bookings hasn’t always been easy but remember our service is 100% flexible, the challenges may still exist but will be significantly easier to manage if you’re just offering a few flexible places at your service.
The staffing plan at our flexible service is based on a core team, employed on permanent contracts and based in set areas of the service. Our core team is supported by a sessional team who let us know their availability a week in advance and confirm their acceptance of allocated shifts week by week, members of this team are also associated with set areas of the service. The sessional staff all participate in training, staff meetings and team building events in exactly the same way as the core team.
How do we maintain quality of provision, continuity of care and relationships? Well we allocate staff based on their associated area of the service…so staff that who work with and know the babies are not suddenly booked for a shift in the out of school care. We are red hot on communication, have an active WhatsApp staff group, use a combination of face to face and virtual staff meetings, have a very visual improvement plan, use on line learning journals and share a clearly defined vision and values.
Still interested? Want to be a bit more flexible?
We’ve taken all our experience and knowledge, our tried and tested systems and procedures and developed an innovative toolkit comprising an online childcare management resource, a parent app and a worker app to support you in introducing an element of flexibility to your service. The toolkit has been co-designed with groups of parents/carers and childcare providers and will be available, totally free of charge, to all Care Inspectorate registered childcare providers in Scotland. We’ve fully funded development and have built maintenance and support into our strategic plan going forward.
We’ve also got future development plans including connections with other childcare service management tools, a national sessional staff bank and much more planned.
We’ll be launching our Flexibility Pathway Toolkit on 1st February 2020 at a, free to attend, conference in Dundee. As well as the toolkit launch there’ll be great speakers, a range of exhibitors, fab delegate bags, networking opportunities and more.