Are our nurseries in trouble?
As maintained nursery schools
project worrying financial forecasts, Alice Cooke asks, are
we facing a crisis?
Acampaign to safeguard the future of nursery schools has been launched nationally, as just under a third say their future is currently ‘on a knife-edge’. According to a recent survey by Early Education, three in ten maintained nursery schools (MNS’) are unsure about their immediate future, thanks to significant concerns about finances past 2020, when supplementary government funding is set to come to an end.
Kathy East, chairman of governors at Lanterns Nursery School and Extended Services in Winchester says one of the unintended consequences of the government’s Early Years Funding Formula, is that Maintained Nursery Schools are having to close because they are more expensive to run than day nurseries.
Acting head teacher Lynsay Falkingham has also publicly highlighted the added-value an MNS such as Lanterns provides to children with special needs in particular, who make up 40 per cent of the nursery’s intake.
The primary care services that operate from Lanterns give children access to speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, should they require them. In addition health visitors and paediatricians also run clinics from the school.
In recognition that the government’s new Early Years Funding Formula will not cover the costs of maintained nursery schools, it recently agreed to provide an additional £60m of funding for three years from 2017-18. But is this enough?
The aim was to keep funding at 2016-17 levels, but this did not come to fruition.
Early Education’s survey revealed that two-thirds of MNS’ are operating on a lower budget to 2016-17 and 60 per cent say their budget will be lower in the next financial year. By 2019-20, the number of MNS’ with budget deficits is set to triple, and more than 60 per cent of heads think their budget will be in deficit by 2020 when transitional funding runs out. This is because (according to a government website) nursery schools’ budgets are being impacted by a lower lump sum, fluctuations in the number of children, increased costs and transitional funding only being provided for the universal 15 hours and not the 30 hours.
At the time of Early Education’s survey, the closure of one responding nursery school had already been agreed. Four others, which were known to be closing did not respond. No nursery schools were undergoing a formal consultation on closure, but 13 were in discussions with their local authority about the possible need for closure.
Some nursery schools surveyed said they had already exhausted all possible cuts and options for restructuring, leaving closure as the only option if the supplementary funding, or an equivalent amount, was not available after 2020. There is clearly a need for action here, and fast. The devastating effects on pre-school education on a global and national scale are clear for all to see.
One nursery school told Hampshire Life: “With our deficit due to worsen this year, based on current funding, we will struggle to last beyond this financial year. We have already restructured so have no slack left in the budget.”
Commenting on the survey findings, Lucy Powell MP, chair of the APPG on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes, said, “Maintained nursery schools are the jewel in the social mobility crown; supporting some of the most disadvantaged children and communities.”
And in response to this national crisis, school leaders’ union NAHT has formed a partnership with the APPG and Early Education to campaign for more certainty about the future funding of MNS’s in England.
Speaking on a visit to Lanterns Nursery School in Winchester in July, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi 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 £60million a year up until 2020. We also support low-income families with access to high quality early years through our 15 hours free childcare for all three- and-four-year-olds, with 30 hours available for working families, in addition to the 15 hours a week for the most deprived two-year-olds, which almost 750,000 children are already benefiting from.”
She added: “I would urge councils not to make premature decisions on the future of these nurseries as this work continues.”