The Save State Nursery Schools petition was launched amid fears the Government is risking the future of more than 400 state-funded settings with funding cuts under the new Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF).
Claims are also mounting that under the regime nursery schools would no longer be able to afford to employ qualified teachers, with direct adverse consequences for social inclusion and equality, teacher training, professional expertise, and workforce quality across all types of setting, including PVIs.
If the number of signatories hits the 100,000 mark, then the topic could be debated by Parliament and key campaigner Felicity Higginson said, ‘We want 100,000 signatures.’
Ms Higginson, a teacher at Homerton Early Years Centre in Cambridge, added, ‘I’m anticipating a U-turn. That’s what I’m hoping for and I believe we’ll get it.
‘Who wants a start in life for their children to be worse than our own start in life?
‘We need the whole sector, the state nursery schools and the PVI to support us in this campaign, because otherwise we’ll be the generation who will not have protected our most young and our most vulnerable children.’
The experienced teacher claimed her setting’s budget is being slashed by £200,000.
‘We won’t have the money to pay teachers,’ she warned.
Separately, campaigners in Islington, including the borough's education chief, are joining up with other councils in the capital to highlight the issue.
Islington is warning that hundreds of disadvantaged children could lose out on free places when the cuts hit the borough's state-run nurseries.
This is because children of parents whose working hours are lower than the requirement for the 30 hours, may be unable to compete for places when funding is levelled across types of provision.
While Islington's children’s centres and nursery schools are set to lose around £2m, the town hall estimates money for the borough’s 50 private providers will increase by more than £1m.
The Department for Education, which is investing £6 billion per year in childcare by 2020, including £300m to increase the average funding rate paid to providers, has promised £55m for a two-year adjustment period for nursery schools.
This this would be no help once the EYNFF kicks in, observed Ms Higginson.
A key driver of the cuts for nursery schools is the restriction placed on the supplements local authorities can pass on to providers, such as for funding qualified teachers, who are much more expensive.
The reforms do have a funding stream for children with special educational needs and disabilities to reflect the associated extra cost of provision, a demographic in which nursery schools specialise.
Ms Higginson believes if nursery schools close, the sector’s ability to deliver the expanded 30 hours free entitlement will be squeezed, both in terms of pressure on spaces and the workforce.
She added, ‘It would be heart-breaking for the PVI sector because there won’t be anywhere for teachers to train.
‘The funding needs careful unravelling to make it fairer, but why make it fairer and poorer?
‘That’s not going to do future generations any good at all.'
The teacher called for the Government to carry out a proper cost-benefit analysis for investment in quality, citing research suggesting public money would be saved further down the line.
‘What would be the cost if we all went up to £8.50?,’ she said. ‘What would the outcome be for children, which would then save money later on?’
Parent Kerry Walpole who launched the petition, has sent all her three children Brunswick Nursery School in Cambridge, describing it as an ‘amazing community resource’.
‘It’s heart-breaking to think that something as good and positive as this will disappear if these proposals are carried out,’ she added.
Head teacher of Huntingdon Nursery Kay Dimelow said her setting engenders a ‘love of learning’ in children including with complex needs, and from a range of backgrounds and cultures.
‘If these cuts go ahead we will not be able to provide services.
‘It will be impossible to employ trained teachers and we will not be able to keep in place the range of training needed in order for children with disabilities to attend.
‘Where will they go? They are young children, with parents who are often coming to terms with their diagnosis.’
The Cambridge campaign was launched with colleagues from six state nurseries across Cambridge and Huntingdon on 3 November, and word has been spread across the country.
Sign the petition here.