Nursery classes face untenable pressure from changes to admission arrangements announced last week, experts have warned.
New proposals to allow more flexibility over admissions dates in reception classes have added uncertainty to nursery budgets in the maintained sector.
State-funded nurseries are struggling to cope with cuts of up to 25 per cent in their budgets under the single funding formula, to be introduced in April. This has left nursery resources being provided on the basis of the number of children attending rather than the number of places provided.
After Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum, consultation will begin on a new system giving parents the choice of whether their child can enter reception in September, January or April, potentially leaving uncertainty over the number of children in pre-school.
Margaret Edgington, an early- years consultant, said the changes could be disastrous for nurseries.
"I suppose they (the Government) are doing this to give children a wider choice. But I suspect they're going to shoot themselves in the foot," she said.
"The single funding formula will have a massive effect. Some schools may ask, `Is nursery worth the bother?' All these things don't add up. They're making more of a mess."
Kathy James, senior assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It's a change too far. There is so much happening in early years. It's going to be confusing. It is the wrong time. This is the nail in the coffin."
The Government said it will comment on the impact of the proposals after its consultation closes on November 16.
- Early Education has launched a petition on the No 10 website calling for a rethink of the funding changes so good nurseries are not lost. It has also put a single funding formula toolkit online.
Ann Tanner, the head of Whitley Park Infant School, Reading, runs a flexible system. Children enter the 100-place nursery at six terms and are encouraged to enter reception in September, but can defer.
"There is an awful lot of changes at once," she said. "A lot of us are still uncertain about their impact. We've been fortunate: we did the single entry point three years ago, extended hours this year, and the single funding formula is coming our way shortly.
"It's difficult to get your head around what the funding for early years will be and how secure it is.
"If I was in a smaller setting, that'd worry me; if you're unsure of funding, you're better getting in temporary staff. We're nervous about signing new contracts because we don't know if we have funding to sustain them."