Our nursery schools are on the brink

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Europe sees our nursery schools as the best, but underfunding means that they are in danger, says Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington.

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On 24 May, nursery school head teachers from across Europe are coming to Birmingham. The purpose of their trip is to learn from the best.

OfSTED rates 98 per cent of nursery schools as 'good' or 'outstanding', and remarkably this rises to 100 per cent in Birmingham. The numbers speak for themselves; we have some of the best nursery schools in Europe – we need to properly fund them so they can continue their fantastic work.

Recent research by the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) shows we may no longer be able to take such a fantastic service for granted if we continue to underfund nursery schools. Our nursery schools are overwhelmingly in deprived areas and give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life. Without them all talk of social mobiliy is meaningless.

Changes made to the funding formula for nursery schools, along with nine long years of biting austerity, means we’re at a crossroads on their future. We have a choice: do we properly fund our nursery schools, keeping them at the forefront of early years learning in England and Europe? Or do we continue to underfund them, allowing many of Birmingham’s 27 and England's 397 to collapse under increasing pressures?

The CREC findings show that our nursery schools are having to rely on goodwill and professional generosity to keep their heads above water. It’s only through such goodwill that they’re seen as sector leaders in Europe, but with the long term funding of nursery schools not secure, it won’t be long before we see standards slipping.

CREC's recent research highlights how underfunded our nursery schools are. In Birmingham, for example, it costs £12,597 per year to provide care for a child with Higher Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEN/D). But our nursery schools only receive £5,333 – meaning there is a shortfall of 58 per cent. In every respect, nursery schools are underfunded.

Three years ago, we won a battle to avoid what would have been the closure of half of England’s nursery schools. A nationwide campaign was born in Birmingham and then rolled out throughout England, mobilising tens of thousands of parents, and forcing the Government to backtrack. They were provided with £57.28m in what the Government calls transitional funding. But this funding runs out in the next academic year, leaving a large question mark over the future of our nursery schools.

dromey-march

Jack Dromey leads a march on Downing Street with 700 parents calling for transitional funding

Nursery schools are the jewel in the crown of our pre-school education system. It’s estimated that they are currently contributing over £16m per year through additional non-funded services in Birmingham alone.

Proper long-term funding for early education and care has a four-fold impact on society – reducing educational underachievement, criminality, family break down and social division. The return on investing in proper early education and care is significantly greater than investments in physical infrastructure.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has claimed that Austerity has ended, and it has – when it suits the Government. The Government has overspent by £600m on Crossrail, and the failed probation service privatisation is expected to cost the public purse £467m.

Research commissioned by the Department for Education has raised concerns that services provided by nursery schools will not be viable without the supplementary funding they currently receive. It’s time for the Government to secure the future of our nursery schools. In the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, we will be calling on the Government to support our nursery schools with secure long-term funding, otherwise, we risk losing this jewel in the crown of pre-school education.

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