New campaign launches to save maintained nursery schools

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A campaign to safeguard the future of nursery schools is being launched today, as just under a third say their future is on a 'knife-edge'.

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Three in ten maintained nursery schools are unsure about their immediate future, reveals survey

According to a survey by Early Education, 3 in 10 maintained nursery schools (MNS) are unsure about their immediate future, due to significant concerns about finances past 2020 when supplementary funding ends.

The findings, based on responses from 271 of the remaining 397 maintained nursery schools in England, are being discussed at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary group (APPG) on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes today when Early Education will launch a campaign to save the future of the settings.

In recognition that the new Early Years Funding Formula would not cover the costs of maintained nursery schools (MNS), the Government agreed to provide an additional £60m of funding for nursery schools for three years from 2017-18. The aim was to keep funding at 2016-17 levels.

To test whether that had been achieved, in May Early Education asked the remaining 397 maintained nursery schools (MNS) about their current and future financial situation, and received responses from 271 of them.

In response to the findings, which are being discussed at a meeting of the nursery schools APPG today, Early Education will launch a campaign to save them.

The campaign precedes publication of the Government's feasibility study into the cost and value of nursery schools, due to be published this summer.

Further findings from Early Education's survey reveal:

  • Three in ten nursery schools said their future is on a ‘knife edge’, with some in discussions with local authorities about closing.
  • Two-thirds are operating on a lower budget to 2016-17 and 60 per cent say their budget will be lower in the next financial year.
  • By 2019-20, the number of MNS’ with budget deficits is set to triple. More than 60 per cent of heads think their budget will be in deficit by 2020 when transitional funding runs out.
  • Nursery schools’ budgets are being impacted by a lower lump sum, fluctuations in the number of children, increased costs and transitional funding only being provided for the universal 15 hours and not the 30 hours.

At the time of the survey, the closure of one responding nursery school had already been agreed. Four others, which are known to be closing did not respond. No nursery schools were undergoing a formal consultation on closure, but 13 were in discussions with their local authority about the possible need for closure.

Some nursery schools reported that they had already exhausted all possible cuts and options for restructuring, leaving closure as the only option if the supplementary funding, or an equivalent amount, was not available after 2020.

One nursery school that responded to the survey said, ‘With our deficit due to worsen this year, based on current funding, we will struggle to last beyond this financial year. We have already restructured (due to the removal of children's centre) so have no slack left in budget/staffing.’

Another said, ‘Crunch time will be at the end of this financial year as we will have used up all of our reserves and are probably heading for a deficit of around £60,000.’

Commenting on the survey findings, Lucy Powell MP, chair of the APPG on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes, said, ‘Maintained nursery schools are the jewel in the social mobility crown, supporting some of the most disadvantaged children and communities.

'They have a proven record of narrowing the attainment gap between poorer children and their peers and support a far greater number of vulnerable children and those with special educational needs, than private nurseries. Whilst we welcome transitional funding to safeguard these schools, that funding is due to come to an end in 2020, and the uncertainty around future funding is threatening the viability of many schools, and the services they provide to families and children.

‘We’ve heard warm words from the minister about the unique and the vital role maintained nursery schools play in our education system, now we need to see urgent action and a recognition from ministers that nursery schools are schools, so that we secure future funding so these vital institutions don’t wither on the vine and die out entirely.’

School leaders’ union NAHT has formed a partnership with the APPG and Early Education to campaign for more certainty about the future funding of maintained nursery schools in England.

The campaign’s aim is to secure an immediate guarantee of viable funding for maintained nursery schools after 2020.  Campaigners say that a long-term solution must include a commitment to fund all maintained nursery schools on the same basis as all other schools.
 
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman, who will be speaking at the APPG in Westminster today said, ‘The current Government has recognised the crucial role of the maintained nursery schools as system leaders for the early years, and that the Early Years National Funding Formula introduced in 2017 does not adequately provide for their costs. 
 
‘As things stand, maintained nursery schools are struggling to remain viable. The supplementary funding provided by Government with the aim of maintaining 2016-17 levels of funding has failed to achieve that, with 67 per cent of nursery schools having a lower budget in 2018-19 than in 2016-17. The result of this is that in 2018-19, 39 per cent are expecting to be in deficit, and by 2019-20, 64 per cent expect to have a deficit. Time is running out fast.’

Judy Shaw, NAHT’s Vice President and Head Teacher at Tuel Lane Infant School and Nursery in Calderdale said, ‘We have made huge progress, with a succession of early years ministers stating their support for the outstanding work done by maintained nursery schools, and strong cross-party support for a solution. However, a failure to act now by ministers could have disastrous consequences.’

In response, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said, 'Maintained nursery schools make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children – that’s why we are providing £60million a year up until 2020. We also support low-income families with access to high quality early years through our 15 hours free childcare for all three- and-four-year-olds, with 30 hours available for working families, in addition to the 15 hours a week for the most deprived two-year-olds, which almost 750,000 children are already benefiting from. 

'I regularly meet with maintained nursery school leaders and we continue to work closely together to better understand the value these nurseries offer, so I would urge councils not to make premature decisions on the future of these nurseries as this work continues.'

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