Two biggest pre-school operators My First Skool and PCF to raise fees

NTUC's My First Skool and PCF say fee hikes next year needed to cope with soaring costs

Children at NTUC's My First Skool at Westgate mall. My First Skool and PCF reiterated that the new fees will generally still be lower than the maximum allowed for anchor operators.
Children at NTUC's My First Skool at Westgate mall. My First Skool and PCF reiterated that the new fees will generally still be lower than the maximum allowed for anchor operators.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Parents with children in pre- schools run by NTUC's My First Skool or the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), the two largest pre-school operators here, will most likely have to pay more next year.

Both will raise monthly childcare fees at most of their centres next year, by an average of $34 for My First Skool and $28 for PCF.

For infant care, on average, My First Skool will raise fees by $14, while PCF will charge $48 more.

Both told The Straits Times that the fee increases are needed to improve the quality of their programmes, and to cope with soaring operating costs such as higher staff salaries. They had raised fees at most of their centres just this year.

My First Skool and PCF, both appointed as anchor operators catering to the mass market, also reiterated that the new fees will generally still be lower than the maximum allowed for such operators.

Anchor operators get government grants but have to keep fees affordable. They cannot charge more than $720 a month for full-day childcare and $1,275 a month for full-day infant care, before goods and services tax. This is below the industry median fee of $900 and $1,343 for the two services.

The other three anchor operators here are E-bridge Pre-School, Skool4kidz and MY World Preschool. The first two will not charge more next year as they have already hit the maximum allowed. MY World will raise fees at four of its 25 centres, as these were newly transferred from another operator this year.

Fee increases usually start in January but, for My First Skool and PCF, these will kick in later in the year.

My First Skool, which informed parents yesterday, said the increase will start from April, to give parents "an ample six-month notice".

It will charge more at 113 of its 120 centres, but these centres will have no further fee increase in 2017.

PCF told parents about its fee hike earlier last month, saying fees will increase in January. But it made a U-turn last Friday and said that "on a goodwill basis", it will give all Singaporean and permanent resident children a rebate from January to June, so that the new fees take effect only from July.

PCF, the largest operator here, will raise fees at 139 of its 154 childcare centres and 209 of its 215 kindergartens. Fees for its kindergarten services will increase by an average of $16. My First Skool does not offer kindergarten services.

The fee hikes were approved by the Early Childhood Development Agency, which oversees the sector. A spokesman said: "Pre-school operators raise fees from time to time to ensure sustainability as operating costs rise, and to recruit and retain teachers to deliver quality programmes."

A spokesman for My First Skool agreed, noting that teacher salaries have increased by an average of 5 to 6 per cent each year, over the last three years.

A PCF spokesman said: "Retaining well-qualified staff has been increasingly challenging in recent years, given the keen competition for limited manpower resources in the industry."

Both operators said there are special funds for low-income families, on top of government subsidies. All working mothers get a subsidy of $300 a month for full-day childcare, or $600 for full-day infant care. Those with a household income of not more than $7,500 a month get a second subsidy.

Customer service officer Lee Mei Ling, 34, who has two children in PCF centres, said: "PCF's fees are already lower than many other operators', so I think it's okay. Teachers should be paid well for their work. But it'd be good if the income cap for the second subsidy could be raised. We have three children and earn just a few hundred dollars more than the income cap."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Two biggest pre-school operators to raise fees'. Subscribe