Private Or Maintained Nursery: Deciding On Toddler L’s Ongoing Education

You know something that isn’t fun? Making grown up decisions! I guess it kind of comes with the territory of becoming a parent though. Arguably, we’re in the midst of one of the biggest parenting decisions we’ve had to make to date surrounding Toddler L’s next move when it comes to nursery. You see, today she was offered a place at our (second choice) maintained nursery school, so we’ve got a week to decide on what the best thing for her is.

Making this decision is anything but easy – in fact, it’s more difficult than the decision to send her to private nursery in the first place. There’s so many factors to take into account, which isn’t helped by the uncertainty surrounding the free 30 hours of childcare. Will they? Won’t they? It’s almost as bad as Ross and Rachel. Either way, she’s been offered a place and we need to figure out what makes sense.

Let me back up a little bit. Since October last year, Toddler L has been doing part-time hours at a private nursery. This started as 1.5 days, but we upped it to two days in January. She enjoys going there, she’s come on leaps and bounds and we’re pretty happy with how it’s run. I’ve also uncovered some unexpected benefits!

Back in February, the maintained nursery application form opened in our local area, meaning that we could apply for her to go to one of the school nurseries from the age of three (this September). We visited a few schools, put down a first and second choice, submitted the application, waited for two months and today heard back. Although she was offered the second choice nursery, we liked both of them so have no issues that she didn’t get the first pick.

That brings us up to date. Now, we have what feels like a pub quiz book full of questions to carefully consider before making our decision. The more you think, the more questions come up. The annoying thing though is that there’s no right answer – the decision has got to be made purely on what you think is best for your kid and what works for you as a family. Without a crystal ball or a time machine, it’s impossible to know whether making Decision A is better than Decision B – or whether you should have sacked them both off and gone for Decision C.

Although each child / situation is going to be different, I’m sure there’s a fair few similarities with our current predicament. I don’t want to bore you by going into too much detail, but then again it’s my blog so I can do what I want. Plus, writing all of this down *may* help with our nursery decision making process.

Option 1: Maintained Nursery School

Toddler L has been offered a place for 15 free hours a week. This would start in January 2018 because she was born in the second half of the year, but we could ask for it to be September 2017 if we wanted. It could also be morning (8.30am to 11.30am) or afternoon (12.00pm to 3.00pm), which depends on whether she starts in January or September.

Although this would be free, the downside is that she’d be doing less hours than her current 20 and it is term-time only. Also, three hours per day – rather than two 10 hour days – would negatively impact my work. It takes me three hours to get in the right frame of mind to work, so by the time I did, she’d be ready to be picked up!

Another factor to throw into the mix is that getting a place at the maintained nursery does not mean she’ll get a place at that school the following year. Where she went to nursery has no weighting, so we could find that she settles well at this nursery, but then has to go to a different school the following year.

Option 2: Maintained Nursery School And Wraparound Childcare Provision

So, with the above in mind, we could apply for one of the limited number of places being offered by the wraparound childcare provider for the school. At the moment, they only offer a breakfast and after school club (plus holiday club), but from September, they’re introducing a lunch club and afternoon session to supplement the morning nursery.

However, places are limited and only a handful of kids will get the free additional 15 hours. So, that means that Toddler L could have 15 free hours at the nursery school, then 15 free hours at the wraparound childcare provider, which fulfils the Government’s 30 hours. That’d be five days per week of 8.30am to 2.30pm at the school.

If she doesn’t get the additional free 15 hours – which, chances are she won’t based on probability – there’s an option of paying for the lunch club and afternoon session. If we did this, we’d be unable to use the additional 15 hours we’re entitled to, but she’d be doing longer days which is good from my work perspective. It’d also mean we could pick and choose her longer days, e.g. she could do two six-hour days and three three-hour days, rather than five six-hour days.

However, if she doesn’t start until January, will there be room for her to start at the wraparound childcare provision? Would all of the places – and free additional 15 hours – have been taken up? I don’t know.

Option 3: Private Nursery

Then we have the option of staying where she is at her private nursery. Come September, they will offer her the 15 free hours if she doesn’t take the state nursery place, which will significantly reduce our current £500 monthly nursery bill. However, it doesn’t work by taking 15 hours from her current 20 hours (8am to 6pm).

No, that’d be too simple. Instead, the day is split into two five-hour session and they’d offer three free hours per session. So, if she stayed how she was with two full days, we’d only get 12 free hours and we’d pay for the remaining eight. Unless, it was half term, where we’d pay full rates. Still with me?

At present, the private nursery doesn’t know what it’s going to do with the 30 hours. They may offer it, they may not. Either way, based on the above, unless we upped Toddler L’s nursery hours, we’d only ever be eligible for 12 free hours.

The good thing about this is that we know the nursery and she enjoys it. In addition, it would mean that my work can continue in the same ‘full day approach’ that I’ve become accustomed to, rather than bit parts of days. However, the nursery can be a bit inflexible and I’m still pretty annoyed at finding out that they charge for bank holidays. Grrr.

Option 4: Maintained Nursery School And Private Nursery

Finally, we have the combination approach. She does the 15 free hours at the state nursery school, then goes to her private nursery for any remaining time. So, under her existing hours, that’d be three free hours each morning at nursery school, then from 11.30am, two days per week at private nursery (assuming she started in September – if January, it’d probably be the other way around).

The private nursery does offer a ‘pickup from school service’, but that depends on where the majority of the kids go – if Toddler L is the only one at her nursery school, she’d not be eligible to be picked up. This would mean I’d have to pick her up from one nursery and take her to another nursery, which is a bit of a disruption to both of our days.

Decisions, Decisions…

So where does that leave us? I genuinely don’t know. Good job we have a week to talk it through and decide! I think Option 1 of just the maintained nursery is ruled out – only doing 15 hours per week isn’t enough for her or me. Similarly, splitting her between maintained and private nursery feels a bit of a faff, however that’s not to say that it wouldn’t work.

I think the ideal option would be to have 30 free hours at the nursery school and wraparound childcare provision. That’d mean everything would be free, she’s only a few minutes up the road and the days are long, but not too long. However, there’s only a slim chance she’ll get it and I wonder if she’ll be ready for five days at nursery by September. Will I even be ready for that long without her?! It all feels a bit sudden.

The more I think, the more I’m potentially leaning towards her staying at private nursery. That way, she doesn’t have to move from a place she’s already settled at, plus we get the benefit of 15 free hours in September which will reduce our bill. She could then stay there until she starts school in September 2018, perhaps with a slight increase to the number of days she’s at private nursery, e.g. 2.5 days or 3.

Either way, we’re quite a way of making a decision. What it does show though is that it’s a bloody minefield. So much to consider with – what feels like – limited information and so many dependencies. You know what, I might just sack it all off and homeschool her!

Does the above sound anything like you had to go through with your kid’s nursery decision? Did they go to private or maintained nursery? How did you decide what was right? Let me know below!