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Personal advice

This personal advice was kindly provided by Adam, a current MB ChB student.

There is a lot to consider when moving to a new city to start a degree, especially when you have to plan not only for yourself, but for the needs of your family too! I moved to Warwickshire with my wife, who was about to start job hunting, and two children, one about to start school and the other still in nursery. I found it useful to understand what my commitments would be over the upcoming years so that I could make the best arrangements for my family. I hope the following will provide some insight to help you with your move…

Course commitment

The course is definitely full time! You will spend most of your time at the university during the first year with seminars programmed between 9- 5. The majority of lecture content is available online at the start of the week which provides some flexibility as you have the ability to complete them at a time to suit you.

A typical week in Year 1 will usually comprise of lectures and group work on Monday and Tuesdays. Wednesdays are usually free for Self Directed Learning. Thursday and Fridays are for Anatomy and Clinical Skills teaching and CBL. There are also Community Placements and Bedside Teaching sessions interspersed throughout the first year. You will be scheduled for 1 day of Community Placements per block, and 6 half days of Bedside Teaching during Blocks 3, 4 and 5 (January – May).

The first 10 weeks of Year 2 are similar to Year 1. From there on you will spend the vast majority of your time in a clinical setting. You will be based at UHCW, Warwick Hospital or George Eliot Hospital as your parent Trust and you will also spend time in GP practices within Warwickshire. Days are usually 9-5 with occasional early starts (7am) and very infrequent late finishes (7pm). It’s worth bearing mind that parking at most trusts is fairly limited, so to ensure a space it may be that you have to aim to get in closer to 8.30 even if you have a 9am start. If you do have to miss either the start or the end of a day, then it would be better to leave early as you will usually get less out of the day if you miss the morning handover meeting. The administration staff at Warwick Medical School are keen to support students with caring commitments and will try to place you at GP practices and NHS Trusts that will help you to meet your caring commitments.

Accommodation

Earlsdon, Kenilworth and Leamington Spa are popular areas for medical students to live, as they are within reasonable commuting distance for the University and NHS Trusts at which you’ll be based. Whilst Kenilworth and Leamington Spa are popular they can be quite expensive places to live. Earlsdon being slightly cheaper is well suited to students and young professionals, but the compromise is that houses have little outdoor space and often come without designated parking. Cheylesmore, Stivichall and Finham are areas that are worth looking at for centrally located family homes and these areas tend to be more affordable than Kenilworth and Leamington Spa.

Nurseries

The Warwick University nursery is based on a lovely site at main campus with lots of outdoor space and it is certainly an option to consider during Year 1. However, it may be inconvenient during your days spent in Trusts and in the community, because of both the traffic around the university at rush hour and also the opening hours. The other drawback is that you can only access it whilst you are a student at the university, they are strict on this due to demand so you would have to withdraw your child even if you plan to stay local after studies for work. Say your child was only one year off starting school you may feel it is disruptive to uproot them.

Most parents therefore opt for a nursery that is close to home. My daughter’s nursery allows children to be dropped off from 7:45am and is open until 6pm, which has been sufficient for me to arrive at all of my placements by 9am and I have always been able to leave in good time to make the pick up. At some nurseries there is a choice to have 50 week childcare or just term time. From Year 2, many parents with partners working full time find that having the availability of 50 week attendance is helpful, even if there are odd weeks they don’t send their child in.

I have always received my timetable at least a week in advance, which has helped me to plan with my wife for the few occasions when I have an early start or a late finish. Nursery availability can be an issue and some parents on course have had to split their childcare between two nurseries in order to obtain the hours of care that they need. It is worth visiting the local nurseries when you’re house hunting so that you can get an understanding of availability. This will help you to get your application in as soon as you get your accommodation sorted to reduce the chance of any childcare headaches!

Schools

The timeline is the big challenge when it comes to moving to Warwickshire with school-aged children. The application deadline for Reception and Junior School is usually mid-January with an extended deadline in early February for families moving into Warwickshire. The Warwickshire County Council website has the exact dates and deadlines for applications. Warwick Medical School offers don’t usually come out until after the deadline for school applications has passed, so you may not get your first choice of school, especially if it tends to be oversubscribed. This is worth bearing in mind when looking for accommodation.

As I’ve mentioned, the university day tends to run 9-5, so you will need to consider whether you will need a school that can provide before and after school care or whether your partner or other family members are free for drop offs and pick ups. Schools will usually charge for this extra care, but you may be eligible for financial assistance through Childcare Allowance to cover the bulk of this cost.

School holidays are always a tricky one to manage. University Christmas holidays usually cover school and nursery holidays throughout the course. During Year 1, you get a generous Easter holiday period and, assuming you don’t need to re-sit any exams, a whopping 12 weeks off for summer. You aren’t as lucky from the start of Year 2 onwards as this is an accelerated degree. There are no set Easter holidays in Years 2 – 4, but you get a week of holiday time to use each year, so you could choose to take it at Easter. Year 2’s summer holiday is placed before the year’s summative exams, so you may find it difficult to take much time off. You get 2 weeks of summer holidays in Year 3, this time without exams looming. You can expect from Year 2 onwards to need to make childcare arrangements for half terms as you will usually be in attendance through these weeks. The course outline provides more detail, but it is certainly worth considering whether your partner or family will be able to help with childcare during school holiday periods, or whether you will need to factor a child minder into your financial plan.

Financial support for childcare

Government assistance

The government offers 15 or 30 hours of free childcare per week for 3 and 4 year olds, with full details available on the gov.uk website. There are a few pitfalls to bear in mind and I’ll start with the big one for students:

  1. To be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare, you (and your partner if you have one) need to be earning the equivalent of 16 hours work per week earnt at minimum wage. Full-time student status will not count as work, so you will only be able to access 30 hours of free childcare per week if you are able to meet the work/earnings threshold. I know very few students who have the ability to take on this amount of extra paid work on a regular basis.
  2. The 15/30 free hours per week is provided for 38 weeks of the year, you can access it like that or as 11/22 hours per week spread across 50 weeks. Some nurseries have restrictions on how many free hours you can access per day, this only matters where you want fewer days a week childcare.
  3. You will receive the free childcare from the start of the term following your child’s third birthday, which means you may be waiting 3 or 4 months before you get the free hours, for example a September born child’s entitlement would start in January when they have been 3 for some time.

Student finance

Financial support for childcare costs is provided by Student Finance England (SFE) during the first year of study and by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) during Years 2-4. In addition to Childcare Allowance parents may be able to receive Dependants Allowance and Parents Learning Allowance, but all three are means tested. Childcare Allowance provides up to 85% of your childcare costs (capped at a fixed amount per week), but due to it being means assessed many families find they are entitled to much less or in many cases nothing at all. Those with lower incomes but higher mortgage/rent costs are more likely to be successful with an application. SFE and NHSBSA use different methods to calculate the means tested component of their grants and you may find there is a noticeable difference in the support that you receive under the two systems.

The NHSBSA has produced this guide that details how the means tested element of their grant and Parent Learning Allowance is calculated. Unfortunately, it provides no information on how much Childcare Allowance a student parent will be entitled to receive. You may be ineligible to receive Childcare Allowance from NHSBSA if your partner’s income exceeds £25,000 if you have just one child in nursery and fairly low allowable expenses.

Unfortunately, a gap exists between government assistance and student finance, which many students fall into. For government assistance, student status does not count as work to allow a student parent to access enhanced 30 hours of free childcare per week (or access the tax free childcare scheme), as it is assumed that students will be able to access Childcare Allowance. However Childcare Allowance is means tested and you may not be able to access it if your partner’s income is reasonably modest. This could leave you in a tight spot financially if you anticipated receiving assistance from both or either of these schemes to help you with the huge expense of childcare.

Conclusion

Making the move to Warwickshire with children is a challenge, but there is a lot that you can do to help yourself as you await your offer:

  1. Visit some of the areas noted above and keep an eye on the housing / rental market as this will help you to move quickly to organise your accommodation once you receive your offer.
  2. Visit nurseries and schools when you look at properties and ask about their availability. Rightmove has a handy feature that shows you the schools that are close to a property and their most recent OFSTED ratings.
  3. Be ready to apply for schools and/or nurseries soon after your accommodation is sorted to boost your chance of getting the places you need.
  4. Check the eligibility criteria for childcare allowance, where available, and have a contingency plan should you find yourself ineligible for support.

You will not be the first parent to study medicine at Warwick, there are usually a handful of parents starting every year and there are often others that become parents during the 4 years of the course. Please get in touch with the Parents and Carers network to ask any questions that you may have. We’re here to lend our support and experience to help you make your move into medicine at Warwick as smooth as possible.