When called before the Education Select Committee on 18 June, Pat Glass MP pressed Liz Truss on whether she would reinstate the presumption against closure of maintained nursery schools and ringfence their funding. The minister refused to do either.
Liz Truss's arguments against protecting maintained nursery schools (in her comments to the Education Select Committee) are founded on confusion.
She says it would be wrong to treat them differently and more advantageously to primary schools. Yet in practice they have neither a level playing field with the rest of the maintained sector, nor with the private and voluntary sector. They must meet the same requirements as primary schools to employ qualified teachers and a head teacher, while having none of the economies of scale of primary schools. They also currently miss out on additional sources of funding such as the pupil premium.
Although the private and voluntary sector has other funding challenges, they are not currently required to employ staff with the same qualifications as nursery schools. While the many local authorities that value their local nursery schools do top up their Single Formula Funding to reflect this, at least in part, this is not guaranteed.
Many local authorities, parents and primary schools value the maintained nursery schools in their area for the outstanding start they give to children, often from disadvantaged families, their expertise in supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities and for acting as training hubs for early years practitioners working in all types of nursery, both private and maintained. Their exceptional quality of provision, particularly in disadvantaged areas, has been documented by Ofsted in the 2012-13 Early Years Annual Report and by major research, such as the Effective Provision of Preschool Education study.
The difference between nursery classes attached to schools, and maintained nursery schools is the experience and specialist expertise in early years education and care of those who lead them: the nursery classes do not have such leadership. Ideally, Government should fund all nursery provision at a level which enables highly qualified and experienced staff to provide the best possible care and education. Maintained nursery schools show what can be achieved given expert specialist leadership. But if the Government is not willing to fund the rest of the system to catch up, it should not level down the highest performing part of the sector.
Since 1999 we have lost over 100 maintained nursery schools, leaving only 418 in England. In the absence of a ring-fenced budget, most are now under threat as local authorities seek to balance their heavily reduced budgets. If Ms Truss does not act now, budget cuts to come are likely to lead to the closure of some of the best nursery provision in England - and arguably the world. We urge her to reconsider.
This is a joint response from Early Education, the National Campaign for Real Nursery Education, TACTYC and the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network.