25 Jan 2017, Katy Morton
According to the survey of nursery schools, carried out by Pen Green for the All Parliamentary Party Group, 45 nursery schools believe they will be forced to close by July, while 67 per cent say they will be unsustainable if transitional funding provided by the Government until the end of this parliament finishes.
Last year, the Department for Education promised £55 million in transitional funding for nursery schools for the next two years to support them in transitioning to the new early years funding rate under the new funding formula.
Findings from the survey, which had a 75 per cent response rate and was presented during a meeting of the APPG on nursery schools yesterday, highlight the challenges faced by the country’s remaining 400 maintained nursery schools, including a lack of funding, cuts to children’s centre budgets and a loss of full-time places.
During the meeting, the early years minister Caroline Dinenage expressed her willingness to investigate further how the challenges facing maintained nursery schools could be overcome.
A Government consultation to try to find a longer-term funding solution is expected soon.
MPs from all parties supported the provision of a viable funding solution to enable maintained nursery schools to continue to drive social mobility, support the most disadvantaged children, children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), and to act as leaders driving quality across the early years.
Shadow early years minister Tulip Siddiq went on to suggest the Presumption Against Closure agreement, which requires agreement from the local authority and Government before any closures can take place, be revived as soon as possible.
Speaking at the meeting she said, ‘The reality is that local authorities can now only afford to offer funding at a level that simply does not recognise nursery schools’ true costs.
‘The funding formula, despite the marginal improvements made, is still threatening closures and scaled back provision.’
The early years and childcare minister was asked why funding for children who need extra support is capped at 10 per cent for the early years when the current consultation on schools’ funding proposes a cap of 18 per cent.
Concern was also raised about the impact of funding changes on nursery classes, which has meant some schools are having to consider removing nursery teachers. It was revealed that Warwickshire, which from April will only receive funding of £3.64 per hour per child, may lose all of its qualified teachers because schools will no longer be able to afford to employ them.
Addressing the meeting, Ms Dineage said the Government was spending an unprecedented £6bn a year on early years education and childcare.
She acknowledged the contribution of nursery schools and pledged to listen to nursery school headteachers’ concerns.
'We know that the first few months and the first few years of a child’s life are absolutely critical to shaping their future development. Maintained nursery schools make a massive contribution to the early years sector', she said.
Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘At this meeting of the APPG the minister, Caroline Dinenage, gave very welcome support for maintained nursery schools and articulated a vision for the future which would secure the future of nursery schools as beacons of partnership and innovation, with a key role in system leadership and pedagogy, as well as being engines of social mobility and experts in supporting children with SEND. 'We welcome this and hope we can work with her to ensure all our maintained nursery schools have a sustainable future delivering this vision. But time is of the essence to secure those which are currently under threat of closure.’
Lucy Powell MP, chair of the APPG on Nursery Schools said, 'Nursery schools are the jewel in the social mobility crown, they are the most effective institutions to narrow the attainment gap. Yet now they face death by a thousand cuts.
'These findings offer a stark warning to Government of the threat these outstanding providers face from a toxic mix of reduced funding through the national early years funding formula and drastic cuts to local authority budgets. It is very welcome that the Minister recognises the importance of maintained nursery schools and I welcome the transitional funding provided to nursery schools alongside her stance on listening and consulting the sector on their future. However, unless we urgently have a clear signal, matched by the necessary resources, that no nursery schools should close we will lose these valuable institutions and vulnerable children and families will pay the price.'
A debate on nursery schools is due to take place in Parliament next Wednesday.