If you and your children aren't at the same school, you may need childcare this spring. It's expensive, but there are ways of saving money. Alison Brace reports
If you're back in the classroom this week, and you've got children at different schools, then there's a strong chance that childcare has been uppermost on your mind.
This year's early Easter has caused a holiday headache for any teacher who works in a school that has chosen to stick with the traditional two-week break bolted on to the Bank Holiday Weekend, but whose children go to a school that has delayed the break.
Aside from not getting to spend quality time with your offspring, there's the question of who's going to look after them while you slave away. And then there's the cost.
The problem will have been eased for some with the expansion of the Government's childcare voucher scheme to the teaching profession 18 months ago. The savings - if your school is involved - can add up. In fact, they can amount to the cost of a decent family holiday.
By taking part of your pay as a childcare voucher instead of cash, it means that this part of your salary is not liable for tax or national insurance.
You can pay with the vouchers for up to pound;243 a month of childcare costs for children up to the age of 15.
Both parents are eligible, so you could get pound;486 worth of vouchers a month, although the amount is the same however many children you have.
If you are a basic rate taxpayer, in effect you get pound;130 worth of vouchers for every pound;100 you lose from your pay.
You can spend the voucher with any nursery, childminder, playgroup or nanny who is registered with Ofsted. Go to www.childcarelink.gov.uk to find registered childcare near you.
According to Martin Lewis of moneysaving expert.com, a basic rate taxpayer using the full allocation of childcare vouchers can save pound;70 per month - pound;962 in a year. Higher rate taxpayers can save more - with the biggest possible saving for a family a whopping pound;2,392 a year. For a more accurate calculation of how much you could save, Martin suggests looking at the calculators run by voucher scheme operator BusyBees at www.busybeesvouchers.com.
If you are worried about how childcare vouchers could affect your tax relief, have a look at the HM Revenue Customs childcare indicator to check if you would be better off taking the vouchers. See http:ccincalculator.inlandrevenue.gov.ukCCIN0.aspx.
Most local authorities offer a childcare voucher scheme as part of your salary. As for the increasing number of schools that run their own payroll - such as academies and trust schools, not to mention established voluntary-aided and independent schools - it's not clear how many have joined. This has led to concern among teachers' unions. There is a danger, they say, that some schools will see it as an additional bureaucratic burden.
So if your school has yet to help you out with childcare, it's well worth teaming up with other parent teachers and having a word. Point out it does not actually cost them money to run. In fact, as Martin points out, vouchers actually save them lots of cash, because they don't need to pay national insurance on them.
You could give them a list of providers - and there are lots - who can hand-hold through the registration process. Busybees, Vouchers4Kids, Early Years Vouchers Ltd, Faircare, Leap Frog Day Nurseries, Gemelli Childcare Vouchers and Accor Services Childcare Vouchers are just a few.
And finally, if this Easter's childcare arrangements have challenged you, take heart. The next time Easter falls this early is in 2228. At least that's one less thing to worry about.