The letter, which was co-ordinated Labour MP Lucy Powell, the chair of the APPG on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes,has been signed by 12 Conservative MPs including Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee and former ministers Tim Loughton and Dan Poulter, along with former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and David Lammy MP.
Together they warn that the future of England’s 397 maintained nursery schools is under threat if the Department for Education (DfE) and the Treasury do not find a long-term fix once transitional funding for nursery schools comes to an end in 2020.
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Since 2016, maintained nursery schools have received transitional funding in recognition that they have higher costs than other early years providers because they are run as schools. The funding, which nursery schools claim they need in order to be sustainable, is due to end in 2020.
The letter argues that education ministers have a personal commitment to these settings but warns that ‘warm words will not pay the bills’ and many nursery schools will close without secure funding.
According to the All-Party Group (APPG) on Nursery Schools, which is leading a campaign to save the settings, funding pressures have led to the closure of 11 nursery schools since 2016. A further five are likely to close before the end of this year.
A recent survey by the APPG, of which 271 maintained nursery schools responded, found that 39 per cent had a deficit budget this year and 64 per cent expect to be in deficit in 2019-20. The number of nursery schools that report they will have budget deficit is set to triple in three years.
Ms Powell said, ‘In his first big speech on social mobility the education secretary talked about the importance of the early years, and state-maintained nursery schools embody all that is excellent in the early years, supporting some of the most vulnerable children with a proven track record of closing the early years gap that exists pre-school.
‘It is simply inconceivable that ministers want to preside over the wholesale closure of these much-loved local institutions that have schooled generations of children.
‘If the Government isn’t careful, many nursery schools will close by stealth waiting for help that many never come. They cannot wait for the spending review. We need action now to safeguard their future in the short term, while a long-term fix is found so these schools can thrive and grow.’
Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, which is campaigning to secure the future of maintained nursery schools, added, ‘Ministers talk about the importance of improving the quality of the early years workforce to help close the gap for our most disadvantaged children. Maintained nursery schools prove that when you have a specialist, well-qualified workforce you can transform the lives of children and families, making this one of the most worthwhile investments Government can make.
‘Equally importantly these beacons of excellence share their expertise to raise quality across the early years sector, and provide education and care for children with special educational needs and disabilities whom other settings struggle to support. Failing to fund them sustainability will ultimately be far more costly than investing now in a vital part of the early years infrastructure.’
Shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin, one of the signatories of the letter, said, ‘Only this week, I have heard from nursery heads who have been told their schools will have to bake cakes or take in laundry to make ends meet. This is deeply shortsighted. To close the disadvantage gap you need quality teaching in the early years and the Government needs to act to safeguard it.
‘A Labour government would invest in early years education and support maintained nurseries to ensure no child is left behind.’
A Government spokesperson 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 £60 million extra a year until 2020 to protect maintained nursery schools funding. Ministers regularly meet with maintained nursery school leaders.
'Overall, we are spending a record £6 billion a year to deliver high quality early years education. This means we can provide almost 750,000 disadvantaged two-year olds with 15 hours free childcare. Low-income families can continue to get this amount of childcare for their three-and-four-year-olds, doubling to 30 hours for working families.
'Decisions about what happens after this will be taken as part of the next Spending Review. We urge councils not to make premature decisions on the future of these nurseries.'