Early years funding plans 'body blow' for nursery schools

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hundreds of nursery schools, most in deprived areas, will close if the Government’s plans for early years funding go ahead, the NAHT has warned.

The school leaders’ union has analysed the impact of the proposals from the consultation on an early years national funding formula, which closes today (Thursday).

Analysis by NAHT, shared with the charity Early Education, shows nursery schools across England, which are most often in areas of high social deprivation, would be forced to close.

It is calling on the Government to rethink its plans, which it says are a ‘body blow for early years education’ and will leave thousands of poor families in deprived areas ‘high and dry’.
The research shows that local authorities with the highest number of maintained nursery schools would see enormous decreases in funding for nursery schools.

Under the current plans, the Government has promised an extra £55m for nursery schools for two years, but it is not clear how this will work.

There are around 400 nursery schools in England attended by thousands of children. Ninety-nine per cent of nursery schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, and 65 per cent of them are located in the 30 most deprived areas.

The analysis shows that Birmingham’s 27 nursery schools would lose nearly half of their funding.

While for 2015/16 they received an average of £8.36 an hour, under the current Government proposals this would fall to £4.44 an hour per child in 2017/18, a loss of £3.92 (46.9 per cent.)

Lancashire’s 24 nursery schools stand to lose out by a similar percentage, dropping from an
average of £7.89 per hour in 2015/16  to £4.27 per hour in 2017/18. This is a decrease of £3.62 (45.9 per cent).

The analysis compares the local authority’s average per-hour delegated funding rate for three- and four-year-olds in nursery schools (as published in the Government’s 2015/16 Early Years Funding Benchmarking Tool), and the illustrative average hourly rates that a provider might expect to receive for three- and four-year-old funding in 2017-18 (as published as part of the consultation).

The NAHT says that these losses are too large simply to be recovered through greater efficiencies,  and that those nursery schools will not be able to afford to stay open unless  extra funding is provided on an ongoing basis.

Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary said, ‘We support the Government’s aim to offer more hours of free childcare to families that need that kind of extra help. We also applaud any focus on early years education as the best way to help children make a good start in life. However, the Government has ignored the fact that early years settings come in all shapes and sizes and some have legitimately higher costs than others.’

‘Body blow for early years education’

Nursery schools achieved ‘fantastic results’, he said, by employing more highly qualified staff, and consequently had higher operating costs, and could not benefit from either lower staffing costs, as private and voluntary settings do, or lower fixed costs, as some primary schools could.

He added, ‘The DfE’s own data shows that any funding approach that does not reflect these costs on an ongoing basis will be a body blow for early years education in nursery schools. There is additional funding available, but only for two years. After that point, England’s nursery schools will cease to be financially viable.

‘The 30 hours offer will be doomed before it even gets started, additional places won’t materialise and current places will be lost as nursery schools across England close their doors for good. The Government has the data – it must rethink before thousands of families, many in the poorest areas of the country, are left high and dry.

‘In contrast to grammar schools, high quality nursery education is a proven method of helping the most disadvantaged families. It is inexplicable that a government serious about social mobility would focus on one at the expense of the other.’

Nursery school headteachers have also spoken out against the plans.

Valerie Daniel, head at Washwood Heath Nursery School in Birmingham said she was very worried about the proposals for the new early years national funding formula.

‘We see in Birmingham the positive impact maintained nursery schools make, in particular to the most disadvantaged children. The Government seems to recognise the quality of early years education such settings provide, but has no plans to secure their future beyond the two years of transitional funding set out.’

She added that this would lead to a massive loss for nursery schools, with larger settings potentially losing more than £200,000 from their current budgets, which have already been hit by local budget cuts.

‘I fear that a significant loss to maintained nursery budgets will create a ripple effect on safeguarding the most vulnerable children in the region,’ she said.

Denise Henry is the head at Bensham Grove Community Nursery School in Gateshead, the only maintained nursery school in the city, which has a large proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

She said, ‘Supplementary funding is essential long term for nursery schools to meet the legal requirements of a school. The supplementary funding amount illustrated in the consultations also would result in a significant decrease in our budget. These changes therefore put the sustainability of our school at risk.’

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive, Early Education said, ‘The Government needs to put quality at the heart of the new funding formula, as evidence shows that only high quality provision makes a difference to children's outcomes, especially the most disadvantaged. Only schools provide consistently high quality provision in disadvantaged areas, and the fact that on average it costs only 3 per cent more to fund such provision shows that we should be investing more widely in graduate-led provision, instead of  funding all settings equally whether led by a qualified teacher or a level 3 practitioner.

‘The highest quality provision of all is in the 400 remaining local authority nursery schools and we welcome the recognition that they need additional funding, but unless the government looks again at how much, and how to allocate it, the current trickle of nursery school closures could become a flood.’

A Department for Education spokesman said, 'Our proposals for supplementary funding, which takes account of maintained nursery schools’ current funding rates, are for at least two years.

'This extra funding will provide stability for nursery schools, which make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children.
'The funding is part of our record investment in early years – £6 billion per year by 2020. We will be consulting with the maintained nursery schools’ sector on future funding in due course.'

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