Every setting should monitor its occupancy level on a regular basis, for three essential reasons. This article tells you what they are, points out the risk of doing it in one particular inappropriate way, and shows you where to find further guidance.
Like it or not - whether you're in the Voluntary, Private or Public Sector - childcare these days is a business, offering a 'product' or 'service' like any other. Unless somebody pays for it, the costs of providing it can't be covered. So ultimately, a setting with permanently low occupancy will be unsustainable and may have to close.
It's therefore important every setting monitors its occupancy level on a regular basis, for three reasons:
1. As a key indicator of its ability simply to go on delivering services in future
2. As an 'early warning system', to spot when child numbers are beginning to fall, so steps can be taken before the effects of lost income begin to bite
3. As a tool to help you set appropriate levels for fees, and to forecast budgets
How Do We Go About It?
Your aim should therefore to work out what actual take-up was and compare it with what your occupancy level could have been, if every single registered place had been full all the while. In short: "How many hours of childcare did we deliver and get paid for, compared to how many we were offering?" And then compare this month to last month - and to the equivalent month last year, and so on - to see what the trend is, and prompt you to ask yourself: "Why has it changed?" and "What's this telling us we need to do now?"
It's not complicated once you have a system and a routine set-up. Guidance is available on this website in our Business Resource Toolkit under the "Practice Guidance and Business Resources" tab. If you have nursery management computer software, that may do the work for you if you know where to look; or else you can use our own simple Excel-based spreadsheets.
Not Like This!
Bear in mind that you're looking to monitor the occupancy compared to the setting's full registered capacity - not just the number of children your current staffing level would support. Some Providers choose to 'cap' their actual child numbers this way - they may have good practical reasons, but although staff costs can be varied with child numbers, many other costs ('overheads') cannot - power, business rates, maintenance, accountancy, security, rent or mortgage etc. are usually the same whether you have 20 children attending or 60 - and they still have to be covered. Measuring occupancy against an artificial 'cap' based on staff numbers can therefore give a false picture of your true business sustainability. Don't do it - or if you feel you must, then do both - and for 'business sustainability' purposes only rely on the 'full capacity' numbers.