Opin­ion

Hampshire Life - - Inside -

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.”

Alice Cooke

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