Childcare and education minister Sam Gyimah said that there had been a huge amount of structural change in the education system and that nursery schools had been forgotten about. ‘We are alive to the issue,’ he said, adding that the Government didn’t want to lose the expertise in practice and SEND provided by nursery schools, which he called ‘the jewels in the crown’ of the early years system.
‘We will make sure that the funding system reflects that,’ he said. ‘’Bear with us until the announcement is made. We want to work through it carefully and get it right to support different parts of the sector.’
The early years funding consultation now looks as though it may not happen until August at least, leading to concern that there will not be enough time to complete the review before the 30 hours free places scheme rolls out nationally in September 2017.
Margy Whalley, director of research at Pen Green Centre, pointed out that maintained nursery school numbers had fallen to 405, and that ‘urgent action is needed’.
Mr Gyimah responded, ‘We appreciate the urgency and are committed to doing something about it.’
He confirmed that government was also committed to exploring the structural options that would give maintained nursery schools the same freedoms as other schools to become academies.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was time to invert the current funding pyramid which saw the most money go to higher education and the least to the early years. He reminded MPs that high quality staff are more expensive, and that maintained nursery schools must be funded as schools to recognise this. He called for maintained nursery schools to have the option to become academies, for Early Years Teachers to have the same status as QTS, and for the Early Years Pupil Premium to be raised to the same level as the schools pupil premium.
Third APPG meeting
This was the third meeting of the APPG on nursery schools and nursery education, chaired by Graham Stuart MP.
Early Education chief executive Beatrice Merrick said that there was a great momentum to have further meetings of the APPG. ‘There’s a new Prime Minister who wants to put a fairer start for everyone at the forefront, so there is a clear role for nursery schools,’ she said.
On Mr Gyimah’s assurances about funding, she added, ‘We need the early years funding consultation so that we can put flesh on the bones of this.’
Ms Whalley said of the packed and over-subscribed APPG meetings so far, ‘All in all it has been an encouraging start, but there is much more to do in translating support into action.’
The key calls to action from the meeting were for government to:
- recognise that maintained nursery schools are schools, and guarantee maintained nursery schools receive a viable funding rate via a Schools Block lump sum component (comparable to ensuring payment of sparsity funding to rural schools)
- revive and renew the Presumption Against Closure with a ‘double lock’ requiring agreement from local authority and government before any closures
- give maintained nursery schools the freedom to convert to academy status either alone or as part of a MAT with other nursery schools, or other parts of the school sector.