Campaign to save nursery schools intensifies

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A major new report released today (11 March) calls for urgent action to protect and expand maintained nursery schools, as many are being closed or amalgamated.

nurseryschool

Sheringham Nursery School and Children's Centre is now a Teaching School

An event to launch the report is being held at the House of Commons this afternoon, with Pen Green Centre, Early Education, Bates Wells Braithwaite and the National Campaign for Nursery Education.

The report, by Early Education and funded by the City of London Corporation, surveyed the approximately 400 remaining nursery schools and concludes that, ‘No other part of the education sector is as highly rated, and yet no other part of the sector faces a less certain future.’

Some 57 per cent of maintained nursery schools are rated outstanding by Ofsted, with 39 per cent rated good. They are concentrated in disadvantaged areas – 64 per cent are in the 30 per cent most deprived areas of England.

However, the number of nursery schools has fallen by a third since 1987, from 600, with 11 per cent already federated with another nursery or primary school and a further 20 per cent considering federation or amalgamation. Only 65 per cent still have a full-time headteacher.

‘Funding pressures mean that the steady trickle of closures could become a flood, said Early Education chief executive Beatrice Merrick. ‘This would be an extraordinary loss, given that maintained nursery schools are delivering on exactly the areas of policy government is prioritising.’

These included offering outstanding quality in areas where the private sector may not find it viable to operate; taking well above average numbers of children with SEND; workforce development such as being awarded Teaching School status; and being at the heart of integrated provision, she said.

‘Maintained nursery schools: the state of play report’ calls on government to promote the expansion of nursery schools into local areas where they are not currently present, particularly the most deprived ones, to ‘mitigate market failure’ and help close the gap for the most disadvantaged children.

It says that funding should be stabilised at a sufficient level to cover costs of a full-time headteacher and appropriate numbers of qualified teachers, through binding guidance to local authorities.

It also says that nursery schools should be given greater freedoms to innovate, by extending their age range, offering Reception classes or becoming academies and co-operative trusts.

Leadership

Leadership and workforce were identified as particular challenges in the report, with difficulties recruiting heads and cases of local authorities closing down nursery schools when heads retire.

‘Managing the multi-professional portfolio of services offered by the twenty-first century nursery school – including children centre, daycare, extended services, teaching school, etc – is a challenging job requiring multiskilled and enterprising professionals. Perceptions of the role need to be changed to recognise that it requires heads to manage a budget equivalent to that of a medium-sized secondary school, but with a more complex set of constituent parts,’ the report says.

The report recommends that there is a national approach to succession planning and identifying the next generation of nursery school heads and ensuring that these posts are viable and attractive. It also calls on the National College for Teaching and Leadership to consider a successor to the NPICQL qualification.

Other recommendation in the report include:

  • Giving priority to maximising take-up of places in nursery schools, in particular for funded two-year-olds.
  • Recognising and funding the value of nursery schools’ additional services.
  • Prioritising the involvement of nursery schools in providing integrated services  when commissioning children’s centres.
  • Protecting and enhancing the expertise of nursery schools in providing suitable places for children with SEND and sharing their expertise with the sector.

The report concludes, ‘Without urgent action, nursery schools will soon disappear. Once lost, the cost of rebuilding an equivalent reservoir of expertise in early years education would be prohibitive. A rational system would make best use of the highest quality provision for the most disadvantaged children, and as beacons of good practice for the sector as a whole. Instead, we are allowing our finest early years provision to be lost in the interests of short-term cost savings.’

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