Protest over £30m on offer for school nursery places

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The call for bids for a £30m Government fund to enable schools to open more nursery places targeted at disadvantaged children has been met by angry reactions from the private and voluntary sector, as well as maintained nursery schools.


The School Nurseries Capital Fund, announced in the Conservative party’s manifesto last year, aims to create new high-quality school-based nursery places for children aged from two- to four-years-old in order to boost social mobility.

Local authorities, schools, multi-academy trusts and interested organisations have until 22 November to submit bids. The guidance states that strong partnership working to develop bids is expected with successful applicants being announced in March next year.

But providers in the rest of the sector say they have been overlooked and argue that they also have a vital role in providing childcare and early years education.

Early Education is awaiting clarification of the new funding from the Department for Education with chief executive Beatrice Merrick expressing surprise and disappointment that maintained nursery schools are excluded from bidding ‘given their exceptional track record at closing the gap for children in the most disadvantaged areas’. She added that this would seem to make them the ideal candidates to meet the aims of the fund.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said it was no surprise that many working in the PVI sector are angered by the announcement. He said, ‘It’s absolutely right for the childminders, nurseries and pre-schools who are carrying the bulk of the government’s flagship childcare policy to ask where their additional financial support is. Ministers need to get their priorities straight, stop tinkering with announcements of small pots of money and commit to increasing - and annually reviewing - funding rates for all providers.’

In light of the new funding, private nursery owners are being encouraged by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) to find out what is being planned for their local area and work with their local authority to understand early years plans as soon as possible. Purnima Tanuku, NDNA chief executive, also warned that any new capital investment needs to be carefully thought out.

‘The private, voluntary and independent nursery sector currently offers the vast majority of childcare in England,’ she said. ‘If a new school nursery was to set up in an area with established settings, it could threaten businesses already providing a good service and potentially be a waste of valuable resources. This money would be better used to bolster up the current low funding rate and ensure nursery sustainability rather than duplicating provision.’

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