Nursery schools launch national fight for funding

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A nationwide campaign calling for the long-term funding of maintained nursery schools launches today.

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Nursery school campaigners at the Birmingham summit with MPs Lucy Powell (fromt row, second left) and Jack Dromey (front row,centre)

Nursery schools want the Government to provide a long-term and secure funding settlement for them in the spending review in the autumn.

The summit at Birmingham city council follows a protest in March, which involved 700 nursery school heads, staff and governors marching on Downing Street to deliver a letter to the Chancellor.

Birmingham has 27 maintained nursery schools in the city, the highest number by local authority in the country.

The national campaign is backed by MPs Jack Dromey and Lucy Powell, who are speaking at the event. Also attending are the teaching unions NAHT and the NEU, as well as nursery school headteachers, parents and campaigners. They will also hear from children from Castle Vale Nursery School.

Earlier this year, children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi MP announced £24 million in stop-gap funding to ensure schools could offer places for children for the full 2019/20 academic year.

However, campaigners say that while welcome, there is no guarantee of adequate funding after the next academic year, meaning that maintained nursery schools could lose nearly a third of funding, £60 million, in the 2020/21 academic year, leaving thousands of children without a specialist nursery place. 

Ms Powell, chair of the APPG Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes said, ‘Nursery schools received welcome respite recently, and I thank the children’s minister for his work. However, we now need to see a long-term funding guarantee for nursery schools in the spending review. Nurseries have had to go cap in hand to the Government year after year, demoralising staff, and causing parents worry. These vital institutions need long term sustainability if we’re to shift the dial and eliminate the development gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.’  

Sixty-four per cent of maintained nursery schools are in the 30 per cent most deprived areas of England.

Campaigners also say that as more Sure Start children's centres close, they are under increased pressure.

While the Government has previously committed itself to providing funding, political pressures and change of leadership of the Conservative party put that commitment at risk, they warn.

Analysis by the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) contribute more than £11.5 million a year more than they receive in funding, including feeding and clothing children.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, which represents the majority of maintained nursery school leaders, said, ‘Maintained nursery schools have a critical role to play in the delivery of high-quality early years education, especially for children with special educational needs, but their future has been left uncertain by the Government’s new approach to early years funding. Currently maintained nursery schools are funded in a way that recognises their importance. But this additional funding comes to an end in 2020, leaving schools unsure if they will be able to carry on or plan beyond that date.’

Mr Dromey, secretary of the APPG, said, ‘England’s 392 nursery schools are the jewels in the crown of early years provision. They give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the best possible start in life and support often struggling parents. The sad truth is many are at risk of closure unless the Government now guarantees secure and long-term funding. That would be a tragic loss.'

The CREC research also found that MNS are chronically underfunded across the whole of Birmingham, which is refelected across England. The findings showed that MNS never receive more than 44 per cent of funding needed for a child with Special Educational Needs.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, the secretariat for the APPG Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes, added, ‘Maintained nursery schools are grateful for the £24m the Chancellor provided for summer 2020, but a long-term funding solution remains urgent. If it has to wait until the spending review – the timing of which is still uncertain, but seems unlikely to happen before the autumn – they won’t even know their funding for a full year ahead, which puts them in an impossibly precarious position. 

‘With 64 per cent expecting to be in deficit by that point, we are in real danger of losing some of England’s highest quality early years provision which has a unique role in supporting some of our most disadvantaged children and families. Government must urgently move forward in finding a long-term funding solution for these schools.’

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