Business development

How to increase your nursery occupancy: why data matters

Here's why knowing your full-time equivalent (FTE) can help you boost enrolment.
Increase your nursery occupancy by knowing your full time equivalent
November 30, 2022
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • If you're looking for more ways to boost your nursery's occupancy rates, you've come to the right place. We'll explore how a fresh look at your numbers can help increase occupancy.
  • The key to this is knowing your FTE: that's your full-time equivalent. We'll help you learn how to calculate this, and how to use it in practice.
  • This issue is bigger than just FTE, though. Modern nursery software has a load of automated tools to help you get this vital data in a breeze — more on that down below.
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When you think nurseries and the early years, you probably wouldn't associate that data analysis.

But as it turns out, a bit of clever thinking about your enrolment numbers can help you boost your occupancy, and increase the revenue at your nursery setting.

See, by properly understanding past and future occupancy data, you can optimise your staffing and reduce your daily overheads considerably. What’s more, knowing when and where your occupancy dips is the first stage of getting more bums on seats. Or at least the classroom carpet.

And the good news is, this is easier to do than you might think. It starts with putting a bit more nuance into the way we think about nursery occupancy, and getting used to a concept called full-time equivalent, or FTE. As we'll get into, this simple formula is an important first step into finding blind spots in your enrolment numbers, and extra spaces where you can bring in more revenue.

Let's take a look at why a bit of data smarts can go a long way in boosting your enrolment, and giving you the occupancy rate you're after.

Why 'numbers on roll' doesn't give the full picture of nursery occupancy

Many nurseries still choose to manage their occupancy data using ‘numbers on roll’, and this is a problem.

Why? Well, let's explain it with an example.

Let’s say my favourite ice cream place measured their sales for each month purely based on how many different customers they had, just like you would with numbers on roll. But they wouldn’t have very realistic statistics from this — because each of these customers could have visited multiple times, or bought vastly different amounts of ice cream. This sort of data is critical to understanding your revenue, but it's not so easy to see when you're collecting data with this numbers on roll perspective.

The point is, it can be misleading to assume that each individual customer acts the same, or produces the same amount of revenue for you. This is the risk of counting with numbers on roll, as it can leave you with an inaccurate picture of how much business you're truly doing.

So what's all this talk of ice creams got to do with your nursery? Well, by only keeping numbers on roll, you wind up with a similar problem as this ice cream shop. Each child at your nursery might not be there for the same amount of hours. If we're only doing a head count, we don't get an accurate picture of our total occupancy.

Let’s say you have 50 places at your setting and 50 children on roll. At first glance, this might seem like you're fully booked. But if each of those children is only in two and half days a week, you’re actually only at 50% occupancy, as those 'seats' are empty for the rest of the day. That’s a whole lot of missed revenue.

So let's move beyond numbers on roll, and see how we can grasp this situation to really maximise our occupancy.

Full-time equivalent (FTE): your key to better occupancy

FTE stands for full-time equivalent, and you'll often see this figure expressed as a fraction or a percentage. In the simplest terms, it displays your occupancy rate as the amount of available hours you've booked, compared to the total amount of hours you could offer. Instead of doing a 'head count,' like we would with numbers on roll, we're thinking of our occupancy in terms of hours of care we can provide. 

Instead of one seat, or full day of care, it's eight hours of care. That way, we can really get into detail and see where we might have some empty spots to fill. All you need to work it out it is your registers, a calculator and a spreadsheet — or, a nifty bit of software like Famly.

Let's do another example. Suppose you run a small setting, where you have space for 10 children and operate 8 hours a day. To have full occupancy, you'd need 10 children who are there full-time, or you could have 20 children who are there 4 hours a day. Of course, what’s more likely is that you’ll have a mixture of the two.

Here's how to crunch the numbers. We'll focus on the scale of a single day of care.

  1. First, find your max capacity. Take the hours you're open each day (in this example, 8), and multiply that by the number of spaces you have (in this example, 10). 8 times 10 gives us 80, which represents the maximum hours of care we can offer in one single day. You can then multiply that to represent a week's FTE, or for a whole month.
  2. Then, calculate the hours for your full-time children. Take the number of children enrolled in full-time care, and multiply that figure by 8 (to represent the 8 hours of a full day). Hang on to this number for now.
  3. Now, calculate the hours for your part-time children. Get the number of children enrolled in half-days of care, and multiply that by 4 (representing 4 hours, or a half day at your program).
  4. Add your results from steps 2 and 3 together. This gives you the total hours of care you're providing for your full-day and half-day children. Remember, for this example we're just looking at a single day.
  5. Divide that sum by your 'max capacity' number. The result represents a percentage — your full-time-equivalent, compared against the total number of hours you could provide.

This is just to show how calculating your FTE helps you find blind spots where you can book more children. Even if your 10 spots are filled, your full-time equivalent of care hours might still have some extra room. If you’re able to break down the figures session by session, day by day, you’re in an even stronger position. This way you’re able to optimise revenue, by seeing where your quiet periods are, and which rooms and ages have more space.

All in, you can now optimise your marketing and awareness to push your occupancy rate much closer to your real full capacity.

How to use this occupancy data over time

Now that we have a better idea of how to understand your occupancy, what can we actually do with all this data?

The best thing about past occupancy data is that you already have it ready to use from your registers and your child plans. In a perfect world, it’s better to work off a plan here rather than a register, as you can look at vacant places rather than just attendance records, including holidays and sickness.

The best thing about having records going back in time is that you can make comparisons year on year. Are there certain times of the year that are always quiet? Many nurseries are quiet towards the end of summer as pupils prepare to move onto big school, for example. Most nurseries tend to be quieter on Mondays and Fridays too.

Once you have this kind of understanding of your own childcare centre, and you can prove that it’s happening year on year, you can start to work out why it’s happening. Importantly, this keeps you prepared for that same time next year, and leaves you with enough understanding to do something about it.

Suppose you've found some opportunities to book extra enrolments. Here are a few things you could do:

  • Let existing parents know that slots will be opening up, in case they have more children, or are interested in more care
  • Alert your waiting list, if you have one, to see who could use the hours you have available
  • Boost your marketing efforts, to connect with new parents to fill the spots
  • Consider offering cheaper rates to fill these sessions, if they're quiet or in odd hours

As you get closer to 100% occupancy rate, reports show that the cost per contact hour also reduces, as certain fixed costs like the premises don’t actually increase per child.

Trust projections, not predictions

While understanding past data can be useful, projecting your occupancy rate going forward is where the real benefit lies. It's one thing to know what happened — but it's even better to know what will happen.

This goes beyond FTE, and toward more advanced methods of using your data to boost enrolments. By accurately projecting based on plans rather than just predicting using past data, you have a much more precise framework to work around. Yes, it can be slightly more difficult to collect this data, but it’s worth it.

For one, you can cross reference these plans against your necessary staff to child ratios and you’re able to much more accurately deploy your part-time staff to avoid unnecessary overstaffing. As this Ofsted report from 2015 shows, staffing is by far the highest cost in nurseries, and with a complete overview of your own occupancy, you can look to reduce overstaffing that sends these costs through the roof.

Early childhood platforms like Famly include forecasting tools that automatically analyse your data, and generate these projections for you.
These forecasts can give you a clear insight into things like:

  • What your attendance will look like in the coming weeks and months
  • Which classrooms will be the most full, needing more staff to stay within ratio
  • When you can expect open spots in classrooms, so you can optimise your enrollment
  • How much tuition income you can expect in the busy months, as well as the slow periods

When you’re able to know things like that, you can start to plan your budget months in advance. This can make for huge peace of mind, and help you make sure your child care program’s finances are secure and healthy for the future.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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Find out below how Famly improved parent communication at N Family Club, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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“Parents love getting the updates in Famly, as soon as we write an observation, the parents are involved, and the best thing is they can record their own observations at home." - Hannah, Manager, N Family Club

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Find out below how Famly improved parent communication at N Family Club, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly improved parent communication at N Family Club, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly improved parent communication at N Family Club, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.