I’m writing this post about two months before you’ll see it, while it’s still fresh and raw. Why am I choosing not to publish immediately? Because it’s not only a criticism of a loophole in the preschool funding system, but also of my daughter’s specific setting (her previous one, as she’s since been moved). And while I want every parent with young children to be aware of the preschool funding loophole, I also have to be circumspect. Plus, as things have turned out, I’d have been foolish to risk getting the result we were seeking when it was (eventually) so close.
Pixie will be at her preschool until after October half term, and while I am 100% firm on my stance and have no issue calling the manager out on it, I’m also mindful of making my daughter’s life as comfortable as possible. I will not leave her in the care of adults who have a fundamental issue with her parents, and I suspect I’m already half way to that being the case! So, I’m choosing to smile sweetly and bite my tongue until my daughter is no longer in the firing line. Once she’s been removed, this post will go public and I’ll have no problem discussing it directly with the setting should they wish.
I’m not a coward or two-faced, but my daughters are my priority always, and I will protect them above all else.
Pixie has been at preschool for a year now. She’s just turned four and missed out on moving up to reception by a matter of days. Quite soon however, she’ll be moving on nonetheless – because we’re relocating. The issue I want to discuss has come about due to preschool funding or, more specifically, a preschool funding loophole.
Our situation is that Pixie’s old preschool required a half term’s notice period. This is quite understandable as it enables them to open up and fill a child’s place if it’s no longer required. With this in mind I mentioned to Pixie’s preschool our intention to move early on in the process; I subsequently advised them when our house fell through, and again before the summer holidays that it was likely we’d take Pixie out after October half term. Of course the nature of buying and selling houses means it’s notoriously difficult to be any more precise, and with the summer holidays being six weeks long, that’s a vast amount of time in which things can either speed up or go belly up. IN other words, I was simply not able to be definitive with dates.
Preschool reopened on the Thursday, and they’re closed on Mondays. On the Tuesday of the first full week back, ie. the third session of the new term, I spoke to the manager when I dropped Pixie off to confirm she would be moved after October half term. Her response? ‘You need to give a half term’s notice’.
And, when I pointed out that’s precisely what I was doing at that moment: ‘Ah, but we’re in week two’.
No matter – she relented and agreed that despite being two days late (a breach of their policy), she’d accept the notice. However, it still left us with a dilemma because she subsequently advised that we had the ‘choice’ of applying for funding with her, in which case we’d get a bill from the new setting for the second half of the term; or, we could apply at the new setting but be liable for the first half of the term with her.
The Preschool Funding Loophole
This felt unfair, but I didn’t know my rights; so I asked one or two questions to better understand the policies, and then left having been very clearly advised that we would be liable to pay a bill at one or other of the settings. I went away to carry out some research, and was stunned by what I discovered.
Are you aware that preschools are not obliged to transfer your child’s funding to a new setting?
Funding is on a termly basis; should you have cause to move your child partway through a term, you are at risk of losing your funding – not because the council doesn’t intend for you to be funded, but because they simply cannot justify the cost of policing the issue. They used to, but a couple of years ago they stopped, presumably because if they bankrolled the cost of enforcing the transfers, they would no longer be in a position to afford the funding itself.
Of course, if settings are ethical then there is no issue; Essex County Council, for example, are quite clear that they request the original setting to transfer the funding (see page 23 for the wording). Alas, it is at the preschool’s discretion – and some settings are unscrupulous, prioritising lining their pockets over valuing the interests of the family.
Or put another way, they’re morally corrupt and devoid of compassion. If we’re being blunt, they’re little more than thieves.
Held to Ransom
The better I understood the way funding works, the clearer the picture became to me: Pixie’s preschool manager intended for us to apply for funding with her, so the preschool she managed could benefit from the extra half a term which she had no intention of transferring. This would literally come from our pockets, at a time when our finances are stretched to the limit – not that I have to justify being pissed off about her duplicity. She even used the line ‘through no fault of your own’ – you’re not kidding! We have had just about as much bad luck as one can get when buying and selling a property in the UK! And we’ve been as transparent as possible and acted in good faith both in that situation and with Pixie’s preschool.
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With all that was going on, I kept Pixie with me that day, and we visited her new preschool for advice. The staff were incredible – so helpful and informative and incredibly kind and understanding of our situation. They gave as much formal advice as they were able to – and some off the record support too. They confirmed what I already knew at this point, and we decided it was worth explicitly asking the manager if she would transfer the funding, now that I knew it absolutely was an option (one which she’d never been forthcoming about). I asked my husband to have that conversation, just in case I had to continue to face her for the next few weeks.
Hubby made the call the following morning, and phoned me early to advise (gloat) that he’d sweet talked the manager by playing dumb, before casually dropping into the conversation that we’d been advised of the possibility of transferring funding. She grudgingly acquiesced, and I was surprised but pleased. I awaited her promised email confirmation with the intention of taking Pixie into preschool as normal on the basis that we had a positive resolution.
And then the email arrived – stating that as per the conversation with my husband, transferring funds was at the preschool’s discretion.
Very clearly not the written promise they’d discussed. Was she trying to trick us?
More Messing Around
By this point, Pixie had been dressed in her preschool t-shirt and told she was attending. I fired off an email asking the manager to confirm that she would transfer my daughter’s funding, as requested by the council, and attached a screenshot of the wording used by our local authority. And then I waited.
Because the manager’s follow up email to my husband’s call had been immediate, I’d hoped to receive confirmation before Pixie was due into preschool two hours later. However, none was forthcoming and I had to tell Pixie that she would now not be going after all. She’d been excited to attend – prior to this term it had always been a battle to convince her to wear her t-shirt, and she most often preferred to wear her normal clothes; the fact that she had asked to wear her ‘uniform’ just made me feel all the worse for changing things again.
Thankfully, she took it in her stride. I used this as an opportunity to chat about her new preschool and drum up some enthusiasm about it. She already knew we were popping in that afternoon to get her registered, so when she asked me if she could look around I jumped on it. I gave them a call and asked if there was any possibility at this late notice, but unfortunately they were unable to fit us in at the time we were able to get there. Again, my little superstar was unfazed.
How a Preschool Should Be
When we arrived at her new preschool, the staff could not have been more lovely. When one of the ladies told Pixie that if she’d still like to have a quick look around she’d try to squeeze us in, we didn’t hesitate.
By this time, Pixie had already been pushed from pillar to post about whether or not she was going to preschool; whether or not she was able to look around; and whether or not she was returning to her old preschool at all – a conversation I’d been noncommittal about and avoided as far as possible. However, when Pixie loved the new preschool and we were subsequently asked if given circumstances we’d like to get her started immediately, ie. the following Monday, I allowed Pixie to decide for herself. She was all for it and I was so relieved at how things had panned out.
We were still expecting the half a term’s bill from Pixie’s original setting (nearly £400). But on the flip side Pixie was thrilled to be starting at her new school after the weekend, which just a couple of hours before had been entirely unexpected!
How a Preschool Should Not Be
I was horrified at the despicable behaviour of Pixie’s preschool manager and the way in which her actions had messed my daughter about. Had things been handled differently there’s no way I’d have had discussions about what Pixie would be doing in front of her, or with her in the way I was forced to. It was inappropriate yet unavoidable, and I felt tremendous guilt; I’d have far preferred to sit Pixie down over dinner and gently explain that after half term she’d be starting at her new preschool. But, children are incredibly resilient and I was immensely proud of how well she took it all.
Alas, the mixed messages and confusion were still not over – that evening I received the email I’d been hoping for hours earlier: in response to my blunt email, Pixie’s preschool manager agreed to transfer her funding after half term. (I’ve just received confirmation that this has now been done.)
Although this was technically a good result, I was nonetheless utterly, utterly furious. I was now in the untenable position of having to break the news to Pixie that there had been a mistake, and she would not in fact be starting at her new preschool for several more weeks – or face a bill of close to £400, on top of the costs of moving.
How dare a greedy woman on a power trip do this to my family?
Let’s not forget that:
- I had always acted in good faith with regards to the preschool and notice of our intentions;
- We’d had so much bad luck already in terms of moving home;
- Preschool funding is for the child; the spirit in which it’s awarded is to give help to the family.
Finding a Compromise For My Daughter
Thankfully, it occurred to me that since Pixie’s preschool does not open on a Monday, with her new setting’s agreement we could allow her to start as planned – on Mondays only until after half term. Since it’s possible to split funding between settings, we were even awarded funding for those hours too! Of course we’d gladly have paid for a few Monday afternoons if necessary, but it’s a bonus that we didn’t need to.
I’m choosing to view this resolution in positive terms: Pixie was happy, and it was actually a great way to transition her between preschools with minimum disruption.
My Final Words on This Sorry Situation
Parents should be made aware of the preschool funding loophole. And my opinion of the manager stands: she’s fake and greedy, and she has the morals of a slug. Why she chose to manage a preschool I do not know, because the children are clearly not her priority. (I will add the caveat that many of the staff are lovely, and Pixie will miss her wonderful key worker.)
In addition to above, I’ve since become aware that the lunch hour preschool were invoicing us for (we provided packed lunch) was, arguably, not chargeable. I know some do this while other don’t, but my understanding is that this can form part of funded hours. However, searching for proof has been fruitless and I’ve given up (please feel free to chip in with your experiences!).
Before anyone reads and calls me out for being inconsiderate – yes, I’m aware of the fact that many preschools are woefully underfunded. I accept that a problem exists which needs to be fixed. What I will not accept is any person’s underhand attempts to take what it not rightfully theirs. This amounts to theft.
If my daughter’s preschool manager had been transparent about transferring funding, or even brazen enough to say that though it’s technically possible they don’t offer it due to financial constraints, I’d have been pissed off. I may even have attempted to convince her to revise her stance. But, ultimately, I’d have grudgingly accepted the decision. I wouldn’t have agreed with it, I wouldn’t have respected it – but we’d have made all our subsequent decisions for our daughter on that basis.
The reason I’ve been so disgruntled is the manner in which the preschool manager has (mis)handled the situation. It’s my belief that she attempted to not only take our daughter’s funding, but also to mislead and trick us, and that is unforgivable.
The dealings I’ve had so far with the office staff of Pixie’s new preschool, along with their tagline (which I can’t share unfortunately for security purposes), says everything I need to know about them. I couldn’t wait to move my daughter to a setting which cares about the wellbeing of the children in their care, and has the family’s best interests at their heart. And I’ve not been disappointed.