The threat to nursery schools and the extent to which different areas are ready to implement the formula was revealed by representatives from Hertfordshire, Birmingham and Sheffield local authorities who gave evidence at the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee last week, where children’s minister Dawn Primarolo confirmed the delay of the funding formula until April 2011.
The committee heard about issues with funding based on participation rather than places.
All of the local authorities present said they would not be able to preserve their maintained nursery schools without taking funding from the schools budget.
In Birmingham they had earmarked a ‘safety net’ fund for two years to protect their 25 nursery schools, which would suffer with cuts to their hours from full-time to part-time based on funding through take-up rather than places.
Lesley Adams, head of integrated services for children and families at Birmingham, told the committee that because the funding was also based on deprivation factors, some nursery schools which are not in deprived areas would lose out because some of the funding will go to the PVI nurseries.
Asked whether the council would need to reallocate funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant, Ms Adams said, ‘I believe so. We have already been to the Schools Forum to say that is our belief, so it is aware of the pressures that are on us. There will need to be more in order to do everything we are being asked to do and keep nursery schools open.’
In Sheffield, which has only three nursery schools, Jamie Lang, finance manager for the schools budget, said there had been confusion because the DCSF guidance published in July and information sessions had led the council to believe they could fund according to places.
He said it was only after further guidance was released that the council found that unless they did something about it, nursery schools would lose a 'significant’ amount of money because they would have to fund based on attendance.
At Hertfordshire County Council, one of the nine pilot local authorities for the funding formula, which has 800 PVIs and 15 maintained nursery schools, early years team leader Lucy Connolly told MPs that the council had found that four nursery schools would lose out. She said the council had acted to protect these nursery schools’ funding for a period of time.
Local authorities also revealed flaws in the cost analysis process, with low return rates and incomplete forms from some PVI providers.
Mr Lang reported that after carrying out the process twice in Sheffield, only 31 per cent of providers had responded, with no returns from childminders or independent schools with nurseries.
Questioned by MPs later in the session, after announcing the delayed implementation, Ms Primarolo also hinted there might be flexibility to the way the formula is applied regarding funding by participation rather than places.
She acknowledged the need for nursery schools to keep places available for vulnerable children at short notice, such as bereavement.
She said, ‘We do not want to squeeze the capacity out of the system which enables it to respond to those very important differences.’
Ms Primarolo told MPs that local authorities who were ready to implement the EYSFF would be invited to take part as pathfinders and to use their experiences to share good practice with other areas.
However, there is speculation about how many local authorities would want to take part in pathfinders.
The London Borough of Brent held a meeting of the Schools Forum last Thursday and postponed implementing the formula until 2011.
This signals that they would not want to take part in the pathfinder, although the council would not confirm this.