Hundreds of nursery schools 'could close' under funding changes

New analysis shows cuts of up to 47 per cent in funding for some nursery schools

Tes Reporter

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Hundreds of nursery schools could be forced to close if the Government goes ahead with a new funding formula, as part of plans to offer working parents 30 hours of free childcare, a teaching union has warned.

There are around 400 maintained nursery schools in England, which would get two years of additional funding when the changes to are brought in. But many could "cease to be financially viable" after this period ends, the NAHT said.

One head warned that larger nursery settings could lose up to £200,000 a year under the changes.

Huge cuts in funding 

The government is proposing to bring in a new early years national funding formula to help deliver the extension of childcare from the current universal offer of 15 hours a week.

The school leaders' union said analysis carried out with the charity Early Education showed local authority areas with the highest number of nursery schools - including the city of Birmingham, Lancashire and Hertfordshire - would see huge cuts.

It estimates that, after the two years' of extra support ends, 80 per cent of maintained nursery schools would see a drop in funding of 25 per cent or more.

Nursery schools have higher costs than private, voluntary and independent sector nurseries because they have more highly-qualified staff, and they have higher costs than primary schools with nursery classes because they are smaller schools.

Government must rethink 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "The Department for Education's (DfE) own data shows that any funding approach that does not reflect these costs on an ongoing basis will be a body blow for early years education in nursery schools.

"The 30 hours offer will be doomed before it even gets started, additional places won't materialise and current places will be lost as nursery schools across England close their doors for good. The government has the data - it must rethink before thousands of families, many in the poorest areas of the country, are left high and dry."

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of campaign group Early Education, said: "At least the government has found a temporary stop gap measure, but a sticking plaster will not work. We have to have system that works in the long term to protect these centres of excellence."

Today is the deadline for submissions to the Government's consultation on the plans.

In April, a poll of childcare providers carried out by the Pre-school Learning Alliance found that almost half of childcare providers feared they could be forced to close as a result of the 30-hour offer.

Research from the think tank CentreForum has also raised concerns about the effect of the policy on disadvantaged families.

Ripple effect

Valerie Daniel, headteacher of Washwood Heath Nursery School in Birmingham said: "The Government seems to recognise the quality of early years education such settings provide, but has no plans to secure their future beyond the two years of transitional funding set out.

"This will lead to a massive loss for nursery schools, with larger settings potentially losing more than £200,000 from their current budgets, which have already been hit by local budget cuts.

"I fear that a significant loss to maintained nursery budgets will create a ripple effect on safeguarding the most vulnerable children in the region."

A DfE spokesperson said: "Our proposals for supplementary funding, which takes account of maintained nursery schools’ current funding rates, are for at least two years.  This extra funding will provide stability for nursery schools, which make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children."

number of nursery schools in england

Source: DfE Schools, pupils and their characteristics, January 2016

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