Maintained nursery school heads are today planning to march on Downing Street to warn ministers that without sustainable funding their schools will close.
The NAHT headteachers' union and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes said an expected 251 heads would lobby MPs then deliver a letter in Downing Street to chancellor Philip Hammond.
Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi allocated £24 million of stop-gap funding to maintained nurseries in February to enable them to offer places for the 2019-20 academic year.
But the NAHT said this money, while welcome, still meant “there is no guarantee of adequate funding after the next academic year…leaving thousands of children without a specialist nursery place…we are trying to plan for a future that, without the sustainable funding, will probably mean the closure of our schools”.
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The letter stated: “The long-term survival of maintained nursery schools still hangs by a thread. The fact remains that, even with the supplementary funding, most maintained nursery schools have had to make large cuts and make hard decisions to balance reduced budgets.”
The NAHT said there are currently 392 maintained nursery schools, with 16 having shut due to budget pressures since 2016.
Heads warned Mr Hammond that cutting their schools would be a false economy since their work in social mobility for young children, if lost, would impose costs elsewhere on public finances.
“Cuts to nursery schools will simply shift the pressure onto other public services – SEND provision, health and social care and a wide range of other services will be left to pick up the pieces if we close,” the letter said.
The letter described maintained nurseries as “the jewel in the social mobility crown”, with 64 per cent of them located in the 30 per cent most deprived areas of England.
Closure would mean “pulling the rug from under the children and families we support, as well as the aim and objectives of ministers to tackle the ‘burning injustices’ facing our country”, the heads said.
The letter said a group of nursery schools in North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Humberside had found that the savings to other services from their work was at least £1.2 million, a higher amount than the supplementary funding they received.
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Maintained nursery schools have a critical role to play in the delivery of high-quality early years education, especially for children with special educational needs, but their future has been left uncertain by the government’s new approach to early years funding.
“Currently maintained nursery schools are funded in a way that recognises their importance. But this additional funding comes to an end in 2020, leaving schools unsure if they will be able to carry on or plan beyond that date.”
The NAHT said an analysis of government spending figures showed 20.3 per cent of maintained nurseries were in deficit – almost six times the proportion seen in 2009-10 – against 10.2 per cent of maintained schools of all kinds.
The DfE has been contacted for comment.