Government urged to find funding solution to save nursery schools

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A new report warns that if London's nursery schools, whose future is under threat, close then it will be detrimental to thousands of vulnerable children.

empty-nursery

London Councils warn that thousands of vulnerable children in the capital will be without high-quality care if nursery schools close

Published by London Councils, the report reveals that maintained nursery schools (MNS) in over a third of boroughs in the capital may be threatened with closure if the Government doesn’t provide additional funding.

It is based upon interviews with headteachers and senior staff from 19 of London's 80 maintained nursery schools between March and May this year.

The majority of headteachers said that if they did manage to keep their nursery school open it would be because they were accepting fewer children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), or by significantly reducing the support available to these children.

Of those interviewed, most said between 20 and 30 per cent of children in their setting had SEND.

Struggling to survive

London Councils asked heads and senior staff about the future of their setting once supplementary funding for MNSs comes to an end in March 2020.

The majority of interviewees said their nursery school would be unlikely to remain open if the supplementary Government funding is removed.

Those nursery schools who do not receive supplementary funding said their reserves were gradually being depleted, which will soon place them in an unsustainable situation.

One respondent commented, ‘If we survive until 2020, we’ll be very lucky.'

Most headteachers warned that they will soon have to begin turning away children with complex needs unless more funding is secured.

Every headteacher emphasised how urgently the Government needs to make a commitment to funding MNSs at a level that would allow them to operate sustainably.

Some said they would need to know what their funding situation was going to look like before next September so they could make a decision as to whether to open for the 2019/20 academic year.

Recommendations

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations to Government, including:

  • the implementation of a sustainable funding solution for maintained nursery schools, which acknowledges their status as schools, their higher costs and their distinct role in the early years sector.
  • consideration of emergency financial support for schools under threat of closure prior to March 2020.
  • to undertake a mapping exercise to understand the distribution of children with SEND across different setting types and support they receive.
  • to increase funding to the high needs block to allow for more funding to be put in place for children in the early years.
  • to undertake a review of the impact of the Early Years National Funding Formula and the 30 hours on the ability of disadvantaged children to access early years places.

Councillor Nickie Aiken, London Councils executive member for children’s services, said, ‘Maintained nursery schools provide a vital service for our local communities, equipping some of London’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children with a high-quality education to give them the best start in life.

‘These schools are specialists in their field and need to be funded accordingly to ensure that this valuable resource is not lost.

‘We need to work with Government and other partners to ensure that maintained nurseries can continue to provide effective support to disadvantaged children and those with SEND.’

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 local authorities with around £60million a year up until 2020 to protect maintained nursery schools funding. 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. Decisions about what happens after this will be taken as part of the next Spending Review.'

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